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Appeal goes Cardinals’ way as they open home stand with a win over Mets

By Derrick Goold, St. Louis Post-Dispatch –

ST. LOUIS — Rookie Joe Kelly gave the Cardinals the start they have needed, first baseman Matt Carpenter produced the situational hitting they have lacked, and closer Jason Motte collected five outs to finish a win they couldn’t afford to lose.

But the save went to a player who never took the field.

Carlos Beltran, sidelined by a sore knee, encouraged manager Mike Matheny to make an appeal to first base after he spied New York Mets outfielder Andres Torres miss the base on his way to second to lead off the ninth inning. Motte threw over to Carpenter at first, umpire Dave Rackley called Torres out for stepping over the base, and while the Mets seethed the Cardinals won 5-4 on Monday at Busch Stadium. Matheny called Beltran “our MVP” after the game, though Beltran read something else entirely into the manager’s initial reaction.

“This guy is not playing today. He’s acting crazy,” Beltran said. “That’s what I saw. We have nothing to lose. Just give it a try.”

The appeal fit into the approach adopted by Matheny when the manager went to Motte for the closer’s first five-out save in 366 days or when the Cardinals used two outs to push across one run in the third inning. Matheny called it “throwing out all the stops.” The Cardinals returned home for a six-game stay having lost five of their previous six but still clutching the lead for the National League’s second wild card berth. Their recent 4-6 road trip reinforced the perception that the Cardinals have been, according Matheny’s description, “as inconsistent as anybody in baseball.”

To correct that trend, the Cardinals had to halt a few.

Kelly (5-6) gave the Cardinals six scoreless innings before the Mets tagged him with a couple of runs in the seventh inning. The rookie righty is the first starter in more than a week to complete the sixth inning and the first in 12 games to pitch at least six innings and get a win.

The Cardinals backed him with situational success as Carpenter had two RBIs in the first three innings without a hit. The first four times the Cardinals put the leadoff hitter on base, he scored. Skip Schumaker contributed a home run, his first of the season, and Allen Craig singled home Jon Jay in the seventh for what proved to be the winning run.

The Mets connected for two-run homers in both the seventh and eighth innings. Kelly Shoppach hit one off Kelly to tighten the game, and Daniel Murphy bruised setup man Mitchell Boggs with one to slash the Cardinals’ lead down to a run. That, in part, led to Motte’s early appearance. That also meant Torres’ apparent double put the tying run at second base with no outs in the ninth — until Beltran emerged from the batting cage.

The veteran switch-hitter arrived at the ballpark Monday morning with his left knee so sore he was unsure if he could play. He was in the cage during the ninth inning testing the knee if needed to pinch hit. While watching the game on television, he saw Torres put a shot into right field and wheel around first base.

“When he hit the ball he was running and looking at the ball. He never looked at the bag,” Beltran explained. “I saw the sand coming off around the bag area. Normally when you touch the bag you don’t see sand coming up.”

Rackley was in good position and staring down at the bag as Torres made his turn. Upon appeal, Rackley, a fill-in umpire who will have 100 games in the majors at the end of this season, called Torres out. Mets manager Terry Collins protested. Torres did not, though he later said he “definitely” did touch the base. Several members of the Mets’ dugout yelled at Rackley as he left the field after the final out. Collins said he had “10 guys telling me he touched the bag, so I don’t need to see (the replay).”

“He went over the front corner with his toe and it just kicked dirt up onto the base,” Rackley said. He told Collins at a key point in the game “I wouldn’t make that up.”

Crew chief Dale Scott said the umpires looked at replay and confirmed the call.

Motte quickly finished his 33rd save.

Before he started, Kelly received a challenge from pitching coach Derek Lilliquist. He wanted the righty to see how many groundouts he could get. As his teammates crafted a 4-0 lead, Kelly leaned on his two-seam fastball and during one stretch retired 10 of 14 without the ball leaving the infield.

“I was going back to that game plan of attacking the bottom of the zone and being fearless out there,” said Kelly, who pitched despite a right calf injury. “It keeps you in the ballgames longer. It keeps your pitch counts down. Quick innings, and our guys are ready to go bang again.”

It was more pop at the beginning.

After Jay’s triple to start the first inning, Carpenter drove him home with a groundout. Kelly opened the third with a double, moved to third on Jay’s bunt and scored on Carpenter’s sacrifice fly. Yadier Molina’s two-out RBI single pushed the Cardinals’ lead to 3-0. Schumaker’s homer off Mets rookie starter Collin McHugh (0-1) added to it in the fourth.

Matheny has worried about the strain on his bullpen in recent days, but he leaned on Edward Mujica, Boggs and Motte to complete Kelly’s game. The Mets capitalized with five baserunners against the bullpen. It would have been six if not for Beltran returning a favor. It was his apparent double down the left-field line that was called foul during Johan Santana’s no-hitter at Citi Field in June.

“Thank God I was able to see something that helped the team,” Beltran said. “Mike high-fived me.”

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