Carpenter collects 21st win against reeling Mets

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Facing Chris Carpenter was the last thing the
New York Mets needed.

Carpenter became the first 21-game winner in the major leagues,
Albert Pujols homered twice and the St. Louis Cardinals beat the
fading Mets 5-0 Thursday night.

New York has lost 10 of 12 following a 9-2 stretch, falling to
70-70. The Mets, on the verge of taking the wild-card lead on Aug.
31 before Pedro Martinez faltered against Philadelphia, have lost
eight of nine since then and dropped 5½ games back of Houston,
which leads in the wild-card chase.

"We've got to see if we can get something going from the little
funk we're in," Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "Obviously
we've picked a bad time to go into a little swoon, and it's hurting

St. Louis cut the magic number for clinching its second straight
NL Central title to 10, beating the Mets for the ninth straight
time at Busch Stadium.

Carpenter (21-4) allowed three hits in seven innings, struck out
seven and walked one, lowering his ERA to 2.21, second in the major
leagues' to Roger Clemens' 1.57. He's 13-0 in his last 16 starts
with a 1.36 ERA over that span.

"What a performance we're watching," Cardinals manager Tony La
Russa said. "It's just been a privilege to watch this kind of

Carpenter said everything was working against the Mets.

"I made quality pitches over and over again and kept the ball
down in the strike zone and kept them off balance," he said.

Carpenter has started 22 games in a row in which he allowed
three runs or fewer while pitching six innings, the longest stretch
of consecutive quality starts in the NL since Bob Gibson also did
it 22 straight times in 1968.

"I faced Chris when he was in Toronto," the Mets' Doug
Mientkiewicz said after going 0-for-3 and failing to get the ball
out of the infield. "I thought he was the best I'd ever seen then.
He's better now."

Carpenter gave up two hits in the first, then retired 16 in a
row -- with just two batters hitting balls that reached the outfield
-- before Carlos Beltran singled leading off the seventh. Three
relievers followed him and completed a four-hitter, the 13th
shutout for St. Louis this season.

"They might have the Cy Young," Randolph said. "They might
have the MVP over there, too."

That was a reference to Pujols, who hit three homers in a span
of five at-bats and has four in four games. He just missed another
in the first inning, flying out to the warning track.

Pujols is hitting .338 with 39 homers and 106 RBI.

"He's been doing it over and over again," La Russa said.
"Getting rallies started and driving in big runs. He's had a
great, great year. Nobody's had a greater one."

Kris Benson (9-7) dropped to 0-3 in four starts since beating
Pittsburgh on Aug. 16. He allowed four runs -- three earned -- and
seven hits in 6 2-3 innings.

Benson matched Carpenter through five innings before Pujols hit
a 415-foot homer to center leading off the sixth, just the fourth
run for the Cardinals in 24 innings. So Taguchi's two-out RBI
single later in the inning made it 2-0.

Pujols hit a 421-foot homer over the left-field bullpen in a
three-run seventh for the second multihomer game of the season and
the 12th of his career. Edmonds reached on an error by second
baseman Kaz Matsui and rookie John Gall hit his first major league
homer, a drive off Tim Hamulack that came in Gall's 21st career

Jose Reyes singled to open the game and was erased trying to
steal by Yadier Molina, who has thrown out 14 of 25 runners trying
to swipe. Matsui singled, and Cliff Floyd walked with two outs
before David Wright struck out.

Game notes
New York was blanked for the 11th time. ... Thursday marked
the seventh anniversary of Mark McGwire's record-breaking 62nd home
run, hit at St. Louis against the Chicago Cubs' Steve Trachsel. ...
The Mets have not scored more than four runs in a loss since a 7-6
defeat to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Aug. 12.

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