2006_10_smetsgame6.jpg

With his teammates and fans crossing their fingers, John Maine held the Cardinals scoreless over 5 1/3 innings, and the Mets bats scratched their way to a 4-2 win over St. Louis on Wednesday. The win forces a deciding seventh game in the National League Championship Series on Thursday.

Maine provided more than the Mets expected, and the potent Mets offense got enough off St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter. Billy Wagner made Mets fans sweat -- and even boo a little -- by allowing two runs in the ninth, but a two-run seventh made that stumble a worry rather than a catastrophe. Wagner's bullpen mates played a large role. Chad Bradford, Guillermo Mota and Aaron Heilman didn't allow a run before Wagner came on. They'll all be available tomorrow, and the Mets will treat them like they can rest in November.

And what about tomorrow? The Mets have the home-field advantage, not an insignificant one in the National League, where home pitchers can go longer without being pinch-hit for. But they have Oliver Perez and his three days' rest taking the mound against a rested Jeff Suppan, who shut out the Mets for eight innings in Game 3. Few of the matchups in this series have turned out as envisioned. If it follows form, Game 7 will be unpredictable.

Photo of what would prove to be game winning runs scoring in the 7th inning by Tien Mao