NEW YORK (AP) -- Willie Randolph swears there was no special message in the New York Mets' three-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals. After all, in this runaway season, the Mets have swept eight other series.
"It doesn't mean anything," the manager said. "We don't focus on any particular team."
But this particular Cardinals team has won 205 games the last two years and captured its division in five of the last six. So in the matchup of first-place teams, it was time for a statement -- and the Mets made one.
Thursday night's 6-2 victory completed New York's third straight sweep and gave the Mets seven straight victories and 11 in a row at Shea Stadium, their longest home winning streak since September 1995. The Mets (78-48) moved to 30 games over .500 for the first time since 1999 and lead second-place Philadelphia by 14˝ games in
the NL East.
Randolph wasn't ready to write off St. Louis.
"That's a team that's going to be around," he said. "Hopefully, we'll see them again."
Tony La Russa's team is struggling with 18 losses in 26 games. He conducted a 20-minute meeting with his team after the game.
The Cardinals' NL Central lead over the Reds was down to .0004
(.5238 to .5234) after Cincinnati beat San Francisco 6-3 later
"I had planned to say something to them about the final push," he said. "This is the time I chose to say it.
"The way I look at it, optimistically or otherwise, is we are in contention. It hasn't been the most consistent we've been in recent years, but we are in contention and I'm excited about it," he said.
And La Russa even found a bright side to the Mets' sweep.
"We've been swept in series before," he said. "The games in those series were not as competitive as these three were."
The Cardinals blew a 7-1 lead and were beaten on a Carlos Beltran homer in the bottom of the ninth Tuesday. They never led in the series again, beaten 10-8 after nearly wiping out an eight-run deficit Wednesday.
Delgado has nine RBI in his last four games, seven against the Cardinals. He had two homers Tuesday night, including a grand slam for the 400th homer of his career.
"I told you so," Randolph said, remembering how he was questioned when Delgado's average dropped below .250. "I said it. He's one of the best hitters in baseball. When he comes out of it, it will be payback time."
Left-hander Dave Williams (3-3), making just his second start for New York, allowed two runs and seven hits in 6 1/3 innings. Roberto Hernandez relieved with runners on second and third in the seventh, and he retired Ronnie Belliard on a foulout before striking out So Taguchi.
Hernandez worked a perfect eighth, and Guillermo Mota completed a perfect night for the New York bullpen.
"A lineup like that, certainly hitters can come up and hurt you," Williams said. "You try to have innings where no one's on. That's what they brought me here to do -- compete and keep them in games."
"He's a little deceptive," Randolph said. "He won't knock your socks off, but he knows how to pitch."
Jason Marquis (13-12) gave up five runs, seven hits and four walks in six innings.
"Obviously, you don't want to get swept anytime," Marquis said. "Your goal is to win series. We haven't put ourselves in a great position. We have to go out there and push hard."
New York jumped ahead in the third inning.
With one out, Reyes singled and stole his major league-leading 53rd base of the season. Paul Lo Duca followed with a drive into the right-field corner for his first triple since May 21, 2005, a ball that glanced off Preston Wilson's glove and scored Reyes.
After Beltran and Delgado walked, loading the bases, David Wright delivered a sacrifice fly and Shawn Green, acquired Tuesday from Arizona, singled for a 3-0 lead. Green went 1-for-3 with a walk, and fans chanted his name.
"I was real nervous before the game," he said. "I felt a little extra focus."
Lo Duca opened the bottom of the fifth with an infield single and, one out later, Delgado hit his 32nd homer, a drive to right estimated at 450 feet.
The start was delayed 30 minutes by rain. ... Cardinals turned double plays in the first two innings. ... Reyes, who snapped an 0-for-12 stretch with three hits Wednesday night, had three more hits. ... Mets left fielder Endy Chavez made two tough catches in the fifth, one on a looping fly by Marquis, the other on a line drive by Belliard. ... The Mets signed catcher Kelly Stinnett to a minor-league contract. He was released last month by the New York Yankees.