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Mets' rock solid 'pen shows cracks

Mets' rock solid 'pen shows cracks

NEW YORK -- If the Mets' bullpen, so good for so long, is showing signs of strain, there are no indications the load is about to diminish.

As the National League Championship Series shifts to Busch Stadium for Game 3 on Saturday night, it's all hands on deck in manager Willie Randolph's ever-ready, well-worn bullpen troupe.

"In this series, anything can happen," reliever Guillermo Mota was saying after the Cards had capsized New York's respected relief corps for a 9-6 Game 2 triumph at Shea Stadium on Friday. "We have to be ready to pitch every day."

The Mets' pitching fortunes would appear to ride on Tom Glavine and the cast of thousands (or so it seems) in the bullpen. New York's 3.25 regular-season bullpen ERA was the best in the league, giving Randolph confidence in calling on just about anybody at any moment.

That does not figure to change as Steve Trachsel and Oliver Perez go to the mound in Games 3 and 4, respectively. The ace, Glavine, is finely tuned for Game 5 but will be working on only three days' rest.

"We need to get a little deeper in the game, to give our guys a little break," Perez said. "I hope I can take advantage of my opportunity [Sunday night] and do that."

Trachsel, who lasted only 3 1/3 innings against the Dodgers in the NLDS, clearly would like to produce twice as many outs in Game 3.

In any event, Randolph appears confident his rubber-armed, strong-willed relievers will rise to the occasion in the heartland.

"You do what you do at the time, make a decision," Randolph said, having deployed six relievers after Game 2 starter John Maine delivered four innings. "Our bullpen is resilient and strong. Most pitchers have gone that many innings many times. This time of year, everyone is ready to go.

"Everybody's ready to take the ball, and my guys love to pitch. So, do what you've got to do."

After coughing up five earned runs on eight hits in five innings of Game 2, Mets relievers have surrendered 13 earned runs in 20 1/3 postseason innings -- a 5.76 ERA.

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A major force down the stretch after arriving from Cleveland, Mota -- who served up Scott Spiezio's game-tying two-run triple in Game 2 -- has yielded five earned runs in 5 2/3 postseason innings.

"I feel OK," Mota said. "I think I can pitch whenever they need me. In a short series, you have to go with your best."

Bravado aside, the Mets' bullpen has not been nearly as effective as the Cardinals' less-heralded collection of relief arms in the postseason.

With Adam Wainwright replacing injured Jason Isringhausen as the new closer -- and with kids named Josh Kinney, Josh Hancock, Tyler Johnson and Brad Thompson getting the ball to him along with veterans Braden Looper and Randy Flores -- the Cards have yielded only one earned run across 19 2/3 innings of six postseason games. That computes to an ERA of 0.46.

"We're not even thinking about [comparisons with the Mets' bullpen] -- we're just focused on what we have to do, and that is execute pitches," said Kinney, who retired Carlos Beltran on an inning-ending double play in the eighth right before So Taguchi and the Cards staggered Billy Wagner with a homer, two doubles and a single for three decisive runs.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, ever respectful and wary of the opposition, hurled nothing but praise in the direction of Randolph's arms.

"All the credit, recognition of the Mets' bullpen is well-earned," La Russa said. "Around our league, they are really tough. They have got so many different looks."

If one of those looks in St. Louis is beleaguered, the formidable forces of New York could be in trouble.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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