Tom Glavine pitched seven shutout innings and Carlos Beltran provided the offense with a towering two-run homer as the Mets took Game 1 of the National League Championship Series Thursday at Shea Stadium, 2-0.
The win was the fourth of the postseason for New York following their Division Series sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Mets have now won eight straight dating back to the close of the regular season.
"I think it's always important when you win the first one," Beltran said. "It develops confidence in the guys and the ballgame and we feel very happy, because the Cardinals … they are a good team. This is only one game and we have more to go."
The pace was set by the 40-year-old Glavine, who has embraced the role of ace for the Mets following the losses of rotation cornerstones Pedro Martinez and Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez.
Appearing for the 34th time in the postseason, Glavine followed six shutout innings in NLDS Game 2 with seven more against St. Louis, spotting his curveball and change-up with masterful artistry over an 89-pitch, 53-strike performance, surrendering just four hits while walking two and striking out two.
"Obviously each inning that goes by and you haven't given up a run, your confidence swells a little bit more and you feel a little bit better about yourself," Glavine said.
"I've been in this game long enough to know that things can change in a hurry. I don't take what I feel or how I feel for granted. I try to approach each inning as a new challenge and try to get through it as quickly as I can."
That conservative effort will prove important for Glavine, because with no off day after Wednesday's rainout, the Mets and Cardinals will be forced to play four more games in four days. That would line Glavine for a potential NLCS Game 5 on just three days rest.
"There's no question I feel better about coming back on three days' rest with a small pitch count like I had," Glavine said. "Tonight was just one of those things where you know, they seemed to be real aggressive early in the count and put some balls in play, and it kept my pitch count down."
Going up against Cardinals starter Jeff Weaver, the Mets found their bats limited through the first five innings, as New York managed just one lone hit.
Paul Lo Duca started the New York sixth with a one-out single and Beltran followed by blasting Weaver's 89th pitch high into the night sky and off the right field scoreboard, a towering two-run blast that blew the lid off a Shea Stadium that had been waiting all night to erupt.
"He seems to have a flare for coming through in a big spot," Randolph said. "Huge home run for us. Everyone is getting a little bit sluggish and (if) you make a mistake to him, you're going to pay for it."
The 430-foot blast hit just below Beltran's illuminated No. 15 on the right field scoreboard, and brought back memories of Beltran's illustrious 2004 NLCS for the Houston Astros, also against St. Louis.
"That was a great post-season, and just hitting the home run today, of course brings memories," Beltran said. "But I cannot be thinking about what I did in 2004. This is 2006, and I just need to continue to do the right things for the team and try to help the team anyway I can, offensively or defensively."
New York never cracked through against relievers Tyler Johnson, Brad Thompson or former Met Braden Looper – who was booed lustily once again by the home crowd – but the bullpen made Beltran's blast hold up.
"Anytime you can hand the ball over to our bullpen late in the game with the lead, it's a good thing, because those guys have been fantastic all year," Glavine said.
Guillermo Mota came on to pitch a scoreless eighth inning, inducing Preston Wilson to foul out to end the inning and strand dangerous Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols – who went hitless over three at-bats, with a walk – on deck.
"A very key out there," Lo Duca said. "You don't want to face him in those situations."
Rescued from baseball's scrap heap from the Cleveland Indians, who had been using Mota and his 6.21 ERA for mop-up relief duties, Mota has been renewed for the Mets. He compiled a 1.00 ERA in 18 regular season appearances and has now been trusted with the pressure situations he craved – there's little more crucial than a two-run lead in an NLCS.
"That's something that I've got to have," Mota said. "I had a tough time in Cleveland. Everything's different. I'm just contributing to the team. I'm pleased to enjoy every moment because it's not something I'll have every year."
Helped by a sharp defensive play from second baseman Jose Valentin, ranging well to his right to take away a Juan Encarnacion hit, Billy Wagner polished off the ninth inning. Pitching around a two-out walk, Wagner recorded his first NLCS save and has now closed all four postseason games the Mets have played this year.
"We're still three games away," Wagner said, looking toward the World Series. "We've accomplished nothing."
Valentin's play was hardly the only shining moment for New York's defense.
David Wright made a pair of nifty plays in the St. Louis third. Playing in on the grass, Wright dove to his left and snagged Ronnie Belliard's line drive for the first out. Then, with runners at first and second, Wright snared David Eckstein's line drive and threw to second base, doubling off Molina.
Not to be outdone, Beltran contributed his own double play in the fourth inning, albeit with the assistance of sloppy baserunning by Pujols. Beltran started back on an Encarnacion fly ball then charged in, appearing to confuse Pujols, who had already started half the way between first and second bases. Beltran finished the twin killing with a one-hop throw to Delgado at first.
Endy Chavez, who started the game on the bench, also contributed.
Coming into the game after aching Cliff Floyd had to be taken out, limping around the bases after shooting a foul fly ball in the second inning, Chavez took over in left field, filling in superbly as he has done all year.
"It's kind of sad," Chavez said. "I just wanted to be ready. I know we need him (Floyd). We have to carry him and if I have to jump on the field for him, I'll do it. I'll take care of it."
There was never a doubt. He got a late break on Belliard's fifth-inning soft liner to left-center but made up ground that Floyd almost certainly would not have, completing a snow-cone diving catch on the Shea Stadium turf and kicking off a new round of "Endy! Endy!" chants.
That was in the stands, but on the field and in the dugout, they were cheering too.
"As far as Endy is concerned, he's been unbelievable all year long," Glavine said. "He's certainly been one of, if not our unsung hero all year long.
"It just seems like every time that guy gets in the game, he's doing something to help us win, whether it's a big hit or a big play defensively, and tonight he made another great play defensively to help us."