Cardinals 6, Mets 3

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ST. LOUIS – Scott Spiezio started in place of Albert Pujols and had two RBIs, and Jason Marquis pitched into the eighth inning for his second consecutive strong outing to lead the St. Louis Cardinals past the New York Mets 6-3.

David Eckstein also drove in two runs and Scott Rolen added a run-scoring single for the Cardinals, who took two of three from the NL East leaders and are 17-5 against them the last four seasons.

Carlos Beltran hit a two-run home run and Jose Valentin had a solo shot for the Mets, who are in a 3-7 slump and have lost their last three series after beginning the season with eight series wins and two splits.

Eckstein, the only Cardinals player who’s started every game, was 3-for-4 with an RBI single in the second and an RBI double in the sixth. Spiezio, subbing at first with Pujols getting his second day off of the season, had an RBI single in both the first and fifth.

Marquis (5-4) won his second straight start after losing four straight outings, allowing three runs on four hits in 7 2-3 innings with one strikeout and two walks. He’s given up four runs in 14 2-3 innings the last two times out after surrendering 22 earned runs in 22 2-3 innings the previous four.

He still had some missteps. Beltran’s two-run homer in the fourth and Valentin’s solo homer in the eighth gave Marquis a team-high 10 homers allowed in 56 2-3 innings.

The Mets put runners on second and third with one out in the ninth against Jason Isringhausen before the St. Louis closer wrapped up his 13th save in 15 chances.

The Cardinals wrapped up a 6-3 homestand that featured one series against a division leader and another against the Rockies, who were in first place in the NL West when they came to town. St. Louis is a major league best 18-7 at new Busch Stadium, all of the games sellouts.

Jose Lima (0-3) got knocked out in the fifth. He and Jeremi Gonzalez, who starts Friday against the Yankees, are essentially auditioning for one spot in New York’s starting rotation. That scenario could change after rookie Brian Bannister left a rehab start after only five pitches on Thursday due to tightness in his right hamstring.

Lima hasn’t lasted longer then five innings in three starts as the fill-in for Bannister. In 14 1-3 innings he has give up 14 earned runs.

Notes: Boxing promoter Don King threw out the first pitch, and paid a visit to Cardinals manager Tony La Russa in his office about an hour before the game. King brought along Cory Spinks, preparing for a welterweight title bout in July. … Beltran has five homers and 13 RBIs in his last 12 games. … Eckstein leads the Cardinals with 17 multihit games and 50 hits overall.

AP-ES-05-18-06 1558EDT

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