ST. LOUIS (AP) — Tony La Russa was defiant. It was just one loss, nothing more.
The St. Louis Cardinals manager insisted his playoff-hopeful team wouldn’t be crushed after blowing a four-run cushion in the ninth inning and watching the New York Mets rally for an 8-6 win Thursday.
“Don’t make a mistake and say we’re heartbroken,” La Russa barked. “Our heart’s beating. We won the series, get ready for tomorrow.”
The loss dropped St. Louis two games behind idle Atlanta for the wild card, with each team having six games left. The Cardinals lost for only the third time in 16 games.
Shortstop Rafael Furcal misplayed a potential double-play grounder at the start of the Mets’ six-run burst, fueling the comeback with his fifth error in six games.
“I think he probably tried to hurry it,” La Russa said. “I think he’s just trying to do too much. He does a lot so it’s hard to fault him.”
Ahead 6-2, the Cardinals walked three batters in helping the Mets take the lead. Willie Harris drew a walk to begin the inning and capped it with a tiebreaking, two-run single with two outs.
Harris, who played for the Braves in 2007, said Atlanta coach Terry Pendleton texted him, “Way to go.”
It was the Mets’ biggest ninth-inning comeback since they scored five to beat the Cubs 6-5 on May 17, 2007 in New York.
“When you go to work you should go to work hard,” Harris said. “I think today shows these guys in this locker room care about each other and we want to win.”
The Mets, who had lost nine of their previous 11, came back against three St. Louis relievers.
“To come back against that team, that bullpen, in the ninth inning is huge,” manager Terry Collins said.
After Harris drew a leadoff walk, Nick Evans hit a routine grounder to Furcal. But Furcal, acquired in late July to boost the Cardinals’ playoff push, fumbled the ball.
Jason Motte walked three of the five batters he faced, including pinch-hitter Justin Turner with the bases loaded. Marc Rzepczynski (0-3) allowed Jose Reyes’ RBI single.
“I felt fine going out there, the ball was just kind of moving all over the place,” Motte said. “One would sink, one would run, one would cut. I was doing everything I could, it just wasn’t going really anywhere I wanted it to go.”
Motte pitched for the third time in four games. He worked 1 1-3 innings while allowing a run to get the save in a 6-5 victory Wednesday night.
“He may be getting distracted by somebody thinking he’s the closer,” La Russa said. “He’s not the closer. He’s the closer a lot of times. He doesn’t need to be distracted by that nonsense.”
Left fielder Shane Robinson almost saved the Cardinals with a diving try, but Ruben Tejada’s drive glanced off the tip of his outstretched glove for a two-run double that made it 6-all. Fernando Salas, making his fifth appearance in seven games, gave up the hits to Tejada and Harris.
Salas said through an interpreter, fellow reliever Octavio Dotel, that fatigue was not a factor.
“Every one of those guys had a green light, they all had a green light to pitch,” La Russa said. “We’re trying to play our way into the playoffs and this is when you push.”
Albert Pujols and Allen Craig homered for the Cardinals. The game was delayed 2 hours and 19 minutes by rain before the first pitch.
Harris missed a two-run homer by inches in the fourth on a drive to right that curved just foul, waving his arms in triumph on the bases and then in disgust after the play was upheld after a video review.
Pujols reached base safely for the 38th straight game, breaking a tie with Andre Ethier for the longest streak in the league this season and leaving him one shy of matching Johnny Damon’s major league-best. His NL-leading 37th homer left him two RBIs shy of a solid slate of 11 career 100-RBI seasons.
Craig has been filling in for injured Matt Holliday, and putting up Holliday-style numbers with three homers, three doubles and seven RBIs in eight games. He hit a two-run homer off Chris Capuano in the first and he also doubled.
Pujols, who homered in the fifth, is a career .545 hitter (18 for 33) against Capuano with five homers, four doubles and 12 RBIs.
Jake Westbrook allowed a run on three hits in six innings, retiring 13 of the first 15 hitters before running into trouble in the fifth when he walked Reyes on four pitches to load the bases and Tejada on five pitches to force in a run.
Yadier Molina added an RBI double in the Cardinals’ two-run seventh, giving him a single-season best of 63 RBIs.
NOTES: Cardinals RHP Chris Carpenter (10-9, 3.66) opposes the Cubs’ Ryan Dempster (10-13, 4.63) in the opener of a three-game series to end the home schedule on Friday night. … Atlanta starts a series Friday night at Washington. … The one-year deal that Mets LHP Tim Byrdak signed earlier in the week is for $1 million. … Mets reliever Jason Isringhausen, the Cardinals’ closer for much of his career, was honored for his 300th save in a pregame ceremony. … Pujols is batting .374 (55 for 147) during his streak.
Copyright Associated Press