Pineiro fights off hour delay to two-hit Mets and halt personal slide

NEW YORK -- Inducing one harmless grounder after another, Joel Pineiro ended a monthlong losing streak in style and made the depleted Mets look feeble.

Pineiro pitched a career-best two-hitter to stop a five-start skid, dominating New York again and leading the St. Louis Cardinals to a rain-delayed 3-0 victory Tuesday night.

"That was classic," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.

Albert Pujols smacked a two-run single and Pineiro matched the Mets at the plate by himself. He doubled and scored in the third inning, then singled in the fourth.

Relying on a precise and steady sinker, Pineiro (6-8) got an astounding 22 outs on the ground in his fifth career shutout and 11th complete game. His previous win also was a shutout, a three-hitter in a 3-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs on May 19.

After winning his first four starts this season, Pineiro had lost eight of nine. He threw 100 pitches, allowing only singles by Luis Castillo in the third and pinch-hitter Jeremy Reed in the ninth.

"It's something you feel when you go out there. When you see something is working, you stay with it," Pineiro said. "Obviously, they know you are going to throw the sinker. But if I keep it down, they can't hit it. It makes my curveball and slider better."

Pineiro walked one, struck out one and hit David Wright with a pitch. The right-hander improved to 3-0 with a 2.91 ERA in five starts against the Mets, including a 5-2 win on April 22 in St. Louis.

He also tossed eight innings of three-hit ball in a 3-0 Cardinals victory at Shea Stadium on Sept. 27, 2007, contributing to the first of New York's consecutive late-season swoons.

"The guy pitched amazing," Mets starter Livan Hernandez said.

Missing injured stars Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado and Jose Reyes, the Mets appeared overmatched on offense as they pounded pitch after pitch into the ground.

The game took only 2 hours, 13 minutes, not including a 52-minute rain delay in the third.

"You can't make any adjustments when he's got a game plan, he's sticking to it and he's executing that game plan," Wright said. "He went out there, had a good outing. There's really nothing that we could have done more besides trying to find some holes, and that wasn't happening tonight."

With a runner on in the fifth, Hernandez (5-2) struck out Pujols on a balloon of a curve that registered 66 mph. But the slugger paid him back in the seventh.

Hernandez walked Chris Duncan with first base open, forcing him to pitch to Pujols with the bases loaded. The two-time MVP lined a two-run single to left, making it 3-0 and giving him 70 RBIs.

Pujols is 5-for-5 with three homers and 16 RBIs with the bases loaded this year.

Two mistakes by the Mets' defense helped St. Louis take the lead.

Batting eighth, Pineiro opened the third with a long double to left. He stayed at second on a bunt by Brendan Ryan, credited with a single when Hernandez looked toward third before throwing too late to first.

Skip Schumaker hit a grounder to first and Daniel Murphy threw low to second for an error, allowing Pineiro to score.

"That's a play I've got to make right there. If it's 0-0, who knows what happens after that?" Murphy said, before detailing his rough night at the plate. "I got the same four pitches, four at-bats, and I didn't do anything with it."

Game notes
Prized prospect Fernando Martinez made his first start in center field for Beltran. ... RHP John Maine (shoulder weakness) is scheduled to pitch again Saturday -- somewhere. Mets manager Jerry Manuel wouldn't say whether Maine will make another minor league rehab start or if he could be activated from the disabled list that day. Maine is slated for a bullpen session Wednesday. LHP Oliver Perez (right knee tendinitis) is on the same schedule. ... Injured Mets SS Reyes (leg) took grounders on the field during batting practice. ... Cardinals 3B prospect Joe Mather, who was playing at Triple-A Memphis, had wrist surgery Monday that is likely to end his season, general manager John Mozeliak said. ... Murphy's error was the first the Mets have committed with Hernandez on the mound this year.