NEW YORK (AP) – Chris Carpenter was way off his Cy Young form. For a change, St. Louis covered up its ace’s shortcomings.

The Cardinals rallied twice before scoring three times in the ninth inning to beat the New York Mets 9-6 Friday night to even the NL championship series at a game apiece.

Manager Tony La Russa predicted before the NLCS that even with good pitching it would be necessary to outscore the Mets to advance to the World Series for the second time in three years. He didn’t think that would apply with Carpenter on the mound.

La Russa moved the right-hander ahead of Jeff Suppan in the NLCS rotation after Wednesday’s scheduled opener was postponed by rain. Last year’s NL Cy Young Award winner is by far his most effective starter, and this also was Carpenter’s regular day to pitch.

The only down side to the change, which would allow Carpenter to pitch again in Game 6, appeared to be his 4.70 road ERA in the regular season juxtaposed with a major league-best 1.81 at home.

Carpenter dominated both at home and on the road in the first round, beating the Padres twice. He entered Game 2 with a 4-0 record and 2.10 ERA in five postseason starts.

Carpenter has had difficulty getting out of the first inning in each of his last two starts. He threw 35 pitches and allowed two runs in the first inning against the Padres on Sunday before finding his rhythm. He followed the rocky first in the division-round clincher with six scoreless innings.

His first-inning struggles continued against the Mets.

Carlos Delgado hit a three-run homer to give New York a 3-0 lead after one against Carpenter, who allowed five runs in five innings. It was his shortest outing since July 4.

Carpenter went 15-8 with a 3.09 ERA during the regular season, making him a strong contender for another Cy Young.

For the first time all season, Carpenter had more walks (four) than strikeouts (one). After allowing only three homers in his previous nine starts, he surrendered two to Delgado, the second on an opposite-field drive that put the Mets in front 5-4 in the fifth.

AP-ES-10-14-06 0020EDT

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