Mets keep Cardinals looking for a break

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

NEW YORK -- Vance Wilson knows he's not going to get many chances as a backup to All-Star slugger Mike Piazza.

So Wilson takes plenty of pride in coming through when called upon.

Wilson replaced an injured Piazza and hit a go-ahead single to lead Jeff D'Amico and the New York Mets over the St. Louis Cardinals 4-3 Tuesday night.

"I was excited just to be able to help the team, especially with one of our big guys out," Wilson said. "I believe in myself. I know I can play every day in the big leagues. I've always been able to hit."

Piazza lined an RBI single in the first inning to extend his hitting streak to eight games, then grabbed for his left hamstring as he was running to first. Wilson, New York's backup catcher, came on as a pinch-runner and remained in the game.

"A little more than halfway down the line, I just felt an intense heat or burning sensation," Piazza said. "Actually, walking off it kind of pulled a little tighter. It's frustrating. Hopefully, it won't be more than a couple of days. You don't want to have it linger. It doesn't seem severe. The positive note is that we won the game."

Piazza iced his hamstring and will take anti-inflammatory medication. He is day-to-day, and is not expected to start Wednesday night.

The Cardinals, who have dropped five in a row and eight of nine, are 1-7 on their 13-game road trip. New York snapped a three-game losing streak.

With the score tied at 3, Jay Payton singled and stole second in the fifth. With two outs, Mo Vaughn was intentionally walked to get to Wilson, who grounded an RBI single off Cardinals ace Matt Morris (4-1) for a 4-3 lead.

"Vance has been playing great for us," manager Bobby Valentine said. "We're not afraid to have him up in any situation."

Payton entered as a pinch-hitter in the second inning for center fielder Timo Perez, who also left with a left hamstring strain on a chilly, 52-degree night at Shea Stadium. Perez was injured as he chased Morris' RBI double in the second.

D'Amico (2-1) gave up a 452-foot, two-run homer to Albert Pujols in the first inning but soon settled down. He allowed three runs and seven hits in 7 1-3 innings.

"You're down three extra players and your starter gives up two in the first, I was wondering how I was going to stretch it for nine," Valentine said. "But Jeff made it easy for us. He shut them down there once he got on a roll."

Morris (4-1), trying to join Randy Johnson as baseball's only five-game winners, struggled to get through the first inning. Pitching in front of family and friends from nearby Middletown, N.Y., he gave up RBI singles to Piazza and Roger Cedeno, and also hit Jeromy Burnitz with a pitch to force in a run.

Morris struck out 10 in seven innings. His six-game winning streak, which dated to last season, came to an end.

"It was a little chilly. I was trying to get used to the weather," Morris said. "That's really probably not an excuse, it's the same for both teams. It's an adjustment you have to make, and the sooner you make it the better off you are."

Fernando Vina, trying to bunt for a hit leading off the eighth inning, was called out for running inside the baseline. Placido Polanco followed with a double, chasing D'Amico.

Armando Benitez pitched the ninth for his fifth save in as many chances. He struck out pinch-hitter Miguel Cairo with a runner on third to end it.

Tino Martinez, always a fan favorite during six standout seasons with the Yankees, returned to New York for the first time since signing a free-agent contract with the Cardinals in the off-season. He went 1-for-3, singling in the ninth.

Fans lined the front row behind the St. Louis dugout before the game, many wearing Yankees shirts and holding signs displaying their affection for Martinez. He got a warm greeting when he came onto the field for batting practice, but a mixed response from Mets fans as he stepped to the plate for his first two at-bats.

"I thought it was great," Martinez said. "The Yankee fans cheered me, the Met fans booed me. That's exactly the way it's supposed to be."

Notes: Morris dropped to 3-2 career against the Mets. He struck out five straight batters at one point. ... St. Louis OFs J.D. Drew (sore knee) and Jim Edmonds (hip and groin) were back in the lineup after missing the previous game. ... Cedeno broke a 1-for-18 slide with a first-inning single. ... Mets manager Bobby Valentine rang the opening bell at the American Stock Exchange on Tuesday morning.

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