By RALPH D. RUSSO   AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) _ Albert Pujols hit a two-run homer in the first
and Jake Westbrook had the Mets pounding the ball into the ground
over eight excellent innings as the St. Louis Cardinals beat New
York 6-2 Thursday to avoid a three-game sweep.

Pujols drove a pitch from Jonathon Niese (9-8) left up in the
strike zone off the facade of the second deck in left field for his
21st home run of the season and a 2-0 lead.

On a sweltering day at Citi Field, with the temperature already
at 90 when the first pitch was thrown at 12:13 p.m., Westbrook
(8-4) worked efficiently (90 pitches) and rapidly, and kept his
infielders busy. He recorded 17 outs on groundballs, including two
double plays, and allowed only four hits and two runs. He walked
one and struck out three, leading the Cardinals to only their
second win since the All-Star break in a tidy 2 hours, 7 minutes.

Westbrook, who came in with an ERA of 5.26 in his first full
season with St. Louis, breezed through the first three innings. The
Mets managed to get only one ball out of the infield against the
sinkerballer as he retired the first nine batters.

Jose Reyes put an end to that. The major’s leading hitter led
off the fourth with his league-leading 16th triple, a drive high
off the wall in left-center. Justin Turner followed with a grounder
to short that cut the lead to 2-1.

The Cardinals came right back with three in the fifth, with the
help of some shoddy Mets’ defense.

After a double by No. 8 hitter Daniel Descalso and a walk to the
pitcher, Nick Punto grounded wide of first base. First baseman
Lucas Duda fielded the hopper, but his throw to second glanced off
Westbrook’s left shoulder and into the outfield, allowing a run to

Jon Jay followed with a groundball single up the middle that hit
second base to drive in one run, and center fielder Angel Pagan
gave the Cardinals another run when he threw behind Jay at first _
with nobody covering for the Mets. Though St. Louis first base
coach Dave McKay was in perfect position to field the toss, he let
it skid toward the dugout.

The stray throw allowed Punto to score all the way from first
and make it 5-1.

Niese tossed six innings and allowed five hits and three earned
runs. He struck out seven, including Matt Holliday three times.
Jason Pridie cut the lead to 5-2 with an RBI single in the
eighth, but the Cardinals got that back in the top of the ninth on
Skip Schumaker’s pinch-hit RBI single.

Carlos Beltran, who homered to tie Wednesday night’s game,
played what could turn out to be his final home game with the Mets.
The All-Star outfielder is in the last year of a seven-year
contract and there has been seemingly endless speculation about New
York trading him before next week’s non-waiver trade deadline.

Beltran struck out, drew a walk to extend his streak of reaching
base safely to 27 games and grounded out to second in his first
three times up. Before his final at-bat in the ninth inning, the
crowd of 37,416 at Citi Field gave Beltran an extended warm
ovation, with many standing as he walked to the plate.

With one out and one on, Beltran hit a lazy fly to left field
off reliever Mitchell Boggs and walked back to the dugout to a
smattering of applause.

While Beltran hasn’t always been the most popular player among
Mets fans _ many never being able to completely forgive him for
striking out looking to end the 2006 NLCS against the Cardinals _
he’s given the team good production for its money. He made the
All-Star team five times with the Mets and hit 149 homers, despite
missing much of the previous two seasons with a knee injury.

The 34-year-old had to move from center to right field this
season, but otherwise has gone back to being one of the National
League’s top hitters. He has 15 homers, 61 RBIs and an NL-leading
30 doubles, making him the most attractive hitter on the market.

NOTES: Mets OF Jason Bay sat out with a tight hamstring, though
he is expected to be back in the lineup Friday, manager Terry
Collins said. … Ryan Theriot served a one-game suspension from
Major League Baseball for making contact with an umpire during an
argument … Pujols’ homer was his 20th against the Mets.


(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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