NEW YORK -- Albert Pujols had the 20-inning marathon that the St. Louis Cardinals played against the Mets earlier this year in the back of his mind when he stepped to the plate in a tie game Wednesday night.
It was already the 13th inning, and with a day game on the horizon, the big slugger wanted nothing more than to drive in a run and head for bed.
Pujols did exactly that, with a single through the left side of the infield that scored Skip Schumaker from third base. The run allowed St. Louis to hang on after blowing a big lead in an 8-7 victory over New York.
"Whatever it took, if it was 20 again, 13, we're going to do whatever it takes to win the game," said Pujols, who finished 3-for-7 with his lone RBI the eventual winner.
Matt Holliday hit a two-run homer and finished with three RBIs, and Jaime Garcia drove in two runs for the Cardinals, who scored six times off Mets ace Johan Santana in the first inning only to watch their bullpen let the lead slip away.
"More like working ball than playing ball," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. "They have a lot of grit. We have a lot of admiration for the Mets."
New York scored four times in the eighth to tie the game, and that's where it stood when Pedro Feliciano (2-6) plunked Schumaker and walked Felipe Lopez with one out in the 13th. Jon Jay hit into a fielder's choice, putting runners on the corners, and manager Jerry Manuel elected to pitch to Pujols rather than walk the bases loaded.
His grounder through the left side brought in Schumaker with the go-ahead run.
"We kind of felt that Holliday, at least tonight, was swinging the bat a little better than Albert," Manuel said of his decision to pitch to Pujols. "It was a tough call. We were going to leave the ball away, he'd hit it on the ground some place and hopefully we'd get it. We were playing with fire and we got burned."
It was the Mets' third extra-inning loss since July 21.
The game lasted 4 hours, 32 minutes, which was still pretty snappy compared to the last time Santana and Garcia hooked up, on April 17 in St. Louis. The two pitchers dueled over seven scoreless innings, and both were long gone by the time New York finally won 2-1 in 20 innings. That game lasted 6 hours, 53 minutes.
"Yeah," Pujols said, "that was in the back of my mind."
The Cardinals gave themselves a big cushion in the first against Santana, who needed 38 pitches just to survive the frame. The two-time Cy Young winner allowed a career-high 13 hits, but kept the damage to a minimum the rest of the way and gave New York a chance.
Garcia also had problems in the first inning, allowing a two-run double to Mike Hessman. The sensational Cardinals rookie cruised after that, until Carlos Beltran hit his first homer of the season in the sixth to get the Mets within 7-3.
The rest of their rally came after Garcia left the game.
Mitchell Boggs set down the order in the seventh, then allowed a leadoff single to Luis Castillo and a two-run homer to Angel Pagan in the eighth. Dennys Reyes walked Josh Thole to load the bases later in the inning, and Ike Davis hit a pinch-hit two-run single to right field with two outs that tied the game.
Kyle McClellan loaded the bases again before getting Castillo to ground out.
"It was an ugly eighth, but we showed a lot of guts," La Russa said.
The biggest bright spot the first half of the game for New York was Hessman, who came within a couple feet of hitting a grand slam in the first. His two-run double off the wall in left was still his first hit since Sept. 25, 2008, when he was with Detroit.
The fans cheered Hessman the rest of the game, and for good reason. The 32-year-old journeyman is the real-life version of Crash Davis from the movie "Bull Durham." He's spent most of his career bouncing around the minor leagues, playing 1,621 games and hitting 329 homers in out-of-the-way places like Greenville and Toledo.
He certainly didn't figure to be the star under the lights at Citi Field, especially with Santana on the mound. He had been 3-0 with a 0.71 ERA in five starts this month for New York, and had not allowed a run in 18 straight innings at Citi Field.
"Johan really did a great job of settling down, saving our bullpen a little bit," said the Mets' David Wright. "Hopefully we can bounce back tomorrow and take the series.
The Cardinals purchased the contract of MacDougal from Memphis and optioned RHP Fernando Salas to the Triple-A club. ... Holliday extended his hitting streak to season-high 13 games. ... Beltran's homer was his first since Sept. 26, 2009.
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