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Chess Match: All the right moves

Chess Match: All the right moves

NEW YORK -- Pressure hung thick over Shea Stadium on Wednesday night with the outcome of Game 6 of the National League Championship Series providing either the Cardinals as a pennant winner or the Mets as survivors for Thursday night's winner-takes-all Game 7. Under those circumstances, the moves of Mets manager Willie Randolph and the Cardinals' Tony La Russa were certainly scrutinized more than ever.

Randolph Gives Pujols a Free Barry
The situation:
David Eckstein on second, one out, top of the third, Albert Pujols coming to the plate, no runs in.

The decision: Randolph gave Pujols a Free Barry, walking the slugger intentionally in an early-inning situation, much like Barry Bonds has been intentionally passed a record 665 times in his career (including 20 in the postseason) in every kind of situation. Pujols, it should be noted, has only been walked intentionally 98 times during the regular season in his career.

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The outcome: Jim Edmonds flied out to right and Juan Encarnacion struck out swinging, stranding the runners on first and second to end the inning without incident. The move endorsed the theory that it's never a good idea to let the other team's best hitter beat you. But it was only the second time Pujols had been intentionally walked in the series and the sixth time in his 47 postseason games. Bonds was walked intentionally seven times in the seven-game 2002 World Series.

The analysis: "He's the best hitter in the game, man. When you get the opportunity to do that, it's a little bit smart to do it if you can. It's not out of character. It's being conscious of him and obviously everyone is." -- Randolph, on passing on pitching to Pujols

Randolph sticks with Maine
The situation:
John Maine had thrown 86 pitches through five innings and hadn't allowed a hit since Pujols singled with one out in the first. His spot in the order opened the bottom of the fifth.

The decision: Randolph sent Maine up to hit. And after he struck out, Maine was sent back out to pitch the top of the sixth.

The outcome: Maine walked Edmonds and after Encarnacion flied out to left, Randolph replaced him with side-arming Chad Bradford to face Scott Rolen, who grounded into a double play to end the inning after taking the first three pitches as balls. Maine, making only his third postseason start and 27th overall in his career, threw 98 pitches and allowed no runs on two hits, four walks (Pujols intentionally) and five strikeouts, including Pujols to end the fifth. Maine also hit a batter.

The analysis: "I've got a good bullpen, that's for sure. John pitched a great ballgame. He didn't lose his cool. So he did a great job for us, did what he wanted to do and just kept us in the ballgame and gave us a chance to go to our bullpen [when we did]." -- Randolph,  on his decision to remove Maine at that point in the game

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La Russa lifts Carpenter
The situation:
Staff ace Chris Carpenter had only thrown 76 pitches through six innings when his spot in the batting order came up in the top of the seventh with one out, a runner on first and the Mets leading, 2-0.

The decision: La Russa pinch-hit the lefty-swinging Chris Duncan for Carpenter. Randolph counters by replacing a right-hander (Bradford) with another right-hander (Guillermo Mota). A quizzical move to say the least.

The outcome: Duncan smacked into a double play to end the Cards' half of the seventh. Carpenter was replaced in the bottom of the inning by Braden Looper. The former Met, who was jeered mercilessly by the crowd of 56,334, allowed three hits and a pair of runs on Paul Lo Duca's single up the middle. The move became even more huge when the Cardinals score two runs off of Billy Wagner in the ninth.

The analysis: "[Pitching coach] Dave [Duncan] and I had talked about it. If there had been two outs and nobody on [Carpenter] would've stayed in the game. But you're down two and you've got, what, eight outs left? I think you had to take a shot there. Chris had an outstanding sixth inning. I was pulling for a rally. Those chances run out. And I'm telling you, if we had been down two instead of four, you'd have seen a different Billy Wagner, too." -- La Russa

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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