NEW YORK (AP) – Just as they planned all postseason, the New York Mets built a late cushion and handed it to their vaunted bullpen.

Turns out, the plan was far from foolproof.

Guillermo Mota coughed up a two-run lead, Billy Wagner lost the game in the ninth inning and the Mets headed to St. Louis with the NL championship series tied after letting Game 2 slip away Friday night.

Wagner allowed a tiebreaking homer to light-hitting So Taguchi plus two more runs during a miserable outing, and New York lost 9-6 to the Cardinals after taking a two-run lead into the seventh.

Mota retired his first two batters in that inning, but Albert Pujols singled on the 11th pitch of a tough at-bat, ending an 0-for-12 skid for the reigning NL MVP. Jim Edmonds then drew a four-pitch walk.

With setup man Aaron Heilman getting ready in the bullpen, New York manager Willie Randolph stuck with Mota, acquired Aug. 20 from Cleveland.

He got ahead of Scott Spiezio 0-2 with a pair of off-speed pitches. But after Spiezio fouled off the next delivery, Mota threw a fastball that Spiezio pulled deep into the right-field corner.

The drive looked as though it might clear the fence for a go-ahead, three-run homer, but a leaping Shawn Green got his glove on the ball and barely kept it in the park.

Still, the damage was done. Spiezio’s two-run triple tied it at 6, and St. Louis had new life.

“I think we made some bad pitches at the wrong time,” Randolph said.

Two innings later, it only got worse.

Wagner, the hard-throwing lefty who saved three of New York’s first four playoff games, served up a 3-2 pitch to Taguchi that he smacked over the left-field fence leading off the ninth – eliciting a groan from the crowd of 56,349.

Spiezio added an RBI double, Juan Encarnacion sealed it with a run-scoring single, and Wagner walked off the mound to a chorus of boos with an ugly line: three runs and four hits in two-thirds of an inning.

AP-ES-10-14-06 0031EDT


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