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Chess Match: Cards dominate Game 3

Chess Match: Cards dominate Game 3

ST.LOUIS -- Game 3 was over early and bereft of many plays and decisions that would've swung it either way. But a few key moves by Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, with his lineup and pitching rotation, and Mets manager Willie Randolph, with his use of relievers, were good enough to either win Saturday night's game or put one team in a spot to win another game.

La Russa's lineup move

The situation: Scott Spiezio had a monster Game 2 on Friday night at Shea Stadium, but at the expense of third baseman Scott Rolen, who didn't start. Juan Encarnacion is 1-for-8 in the series. Chris Duncan is 0-for-5. What to do?

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The decision: La Russa sat Encarnacion and Duncan. He put Rolen back in the lineup, played Spiezio in left field and Preston Wilson in right.

The outcome: Spiezio had a game-breaking triple for the second consecutive night. Wilson walked, had an infield single and scored two runs. Rolen had his first hit of the series, a fifth-inning single, plus a walk.

The analysis: "You try to go with your best shot," La Russa said. "And try to recognize that the other team is also going with its best shot. Sometimes it works. If you start the left-handed hitter and he gets a hit, it's a good decision. If he strikes out four times, it's a bad decision. But I guarantee you, the reasons why [Spiezio] was in the lineup were good, [our] sensible best shot. And then you play it again."

Randolph sticks with Oliver

The situation: Starter Steve Trachsel had allowed five runs and 10 of the 12 batters he faced to reach base safely before Wilson's drive back to the box knocked him out in the second inning with a right thigh contusion. The Mets had used six relievers on Friday night and needed a deep outing by one of their pitchers? What to do?

The decision: Randolph went to left-handed veteran long man Darren Oliver, a pitcher who has made 228 starts in his 13-year career, but none since 2004.

The outcome: Oliver saved the Mets' bullpen by pitching six innings of scoreless, three-hit ball, tossing 72 pitches in the process. He may not be available for the next couple of days, but he could be tapped for a Game 7 start.

The analysis: "He was outstanding," Randolph said. "He gave us a chance to have everybody fresh, our main [bullpen] guys ready for tomorrow. It was a superlative job coming in, giving us a chance to get back in the game. We didn't do much to get back in, but it was huge for him to be able to give us a little blow."

Battle of the starters

The situation: Game 1 is rained out and La Russa has to make a decision on his Game 2 and Game 3 starters. Originally, Jeff Suppan was scheduled to pitch Game 2 on Thursday in New York, and after an off-day, Chris Carpenter was scheduled to pitch Game 3 on Saturday in St. Louis.

The decision: With the off-day eliminated to make up the game on Friday, La Russa opts to flip-flop Carpenter and Suppan. Carpenter pitches Game 2. Suppan gets the extra day of rest and pitches in Game 3. Meanwhile, Randolph decides to remain with his original rotation: John Maine for Game 2 and Trachsel for Game 3.

The outcome: No contest. Carpenter struggles through five innings, but the Cardinals come from behind to win Game 2. Suppan not only stymies the Mets for eight innings on three hits, but he smacks the first homer by a Cardinals pitcher in NLCS history. Maine gets yanked after four innings on Friday. And though Randolph needs Trachsel to go at least six innings on Saturday, the right-hander, making only his second postseason start, can't get out of the second inning.

The analysis: "You try to make decisions based on the best information available," La Russa said. "There's nothing guaranteed when you talk about players. They're not machines. Carpenter was knocked around on Friday night, but we came back and won the game. And then Suppan pitches lights-out tonight. You try to identify what a guy does well and put him in a position to succeed."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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