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Walker's blast lifts Cards, keeps Mets on skids

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Until his final swing, Larry Walker was having
a miserable night.

Walker committed his first error of the season in right field
and was hitless with a pair of strikeouts before hitting a
tiebreaking home run off the right-field scoreboard off Jae Seo
with two outs in the eighth inning in the St. Louis Cardinals' 3-2
victory over the New York Mets on Friday night.

"It was an ugly night, ugly swings," Walker said. "Tonight,
like every night, was a big challenge for me. Fortunately, if he
threw 100 pitches, that was the worst pitch he threw all night, and
fortunately it was to me."

Jason Marquis threw eight strong innings, while Albert Pujols
and Hector Luna each drove in a run for the defending NL champions,
who reduced their magic number for clinching the Central division
to eight. With their second straight victory over the slumping
Mets, they knocked a team that is fading badly in the wild-card
race a game below .500.

David Wright had an RBI single and Cliff Floyd had two hits for
the Mets, who have lost five in a row and 11 of 13 to fall to
70-71. They remained 5½ games behind Houston in the wild-card
standings.

Of the Mets' last eight losses, seven have been by two or fewer
runs. The exception was a 5-0 defeat to the Cardinals and 21-game
winner Chris Carpenter on Thursday.

"Sometimes these are a little tougher to deal with because you
always look back and feel like you could have done a few extra
things to get it done," manager Willie Randolph said. "We had a
couple of opportunities to pick up some late runs and we don't, and
that always makes the margin for error real slim, and it's bit us
in the butt again."

Walker's 13th homer, estimated at 457 feet, is the longest hit
by the Cardinals at home this year. Walker has been battling a
herniated disc in his neck much of the season and kicked the ground
after taking a bad swing on the previous pitch before connecting on
a 2-2 pitch from Seo (7-2).

He had been 0-for-9 before the homer.

"I was mad at the pitch before being called a strike, I was mad
I swung at that, and then he hung me one," Walker said. "So,
madness, madness, happiness, all in the matter of a minute.
Stupid."

Marquis (12-13) allowed two runs -- one earned -- on eight hits in
eight innings. He has won his last three starts, giving up only two
earned runs in 26 innings, after losing seven straight decisions.

"My confidence is a little more than where it was, obviously,
about two or three weeks ago," Marquis said. "But I'm still the
same pitcher, I just made a few adjustments in my game, and that's
getting ahead and expanding the plate from the middle on out."

Marquis went to the mound for the ninth and threw warmup
deliveries before manager Tony La Russa pulled him after 102
pitches. Jason Isringhausen got the last three outs for his 35th
save in 39 chances.

Seo, who had won seven straight decisions, lost for the first
time since April 29. He allowed three runs and eight hits with five
strikeouts and one walk.

"He just pitched well enough to win the game but there's no
prize for the fact that he pitched well," Randolph said. "He just
made the one bad pitch, but he'll pick up the ball again and he'll
do well."

David Eckstein reached on an infield hit to start the bottom of
the first, extending his hitting streak to 14 games, advanced to
third on So Taguchi's double off the third-base bag and scored on
Pujols' groundout.

The Mets took the lead on three straight singles and a throwing
error by second baseman Luna, filling in for injured Mark
Grudzielanek, in the sixth. Carlos Beltran singled and Floyd got an
infield hit before Wright's bloop single tied the score. A second
run scored on Mike Jacobs' double-play ball when Luna's relay to
first was wild, allowing Floyd to score from second.

The Cardinals tied it in the seventh on Luna's RBI single, a
high chopper up the middle that glanced off Seo's glove. The hit
scored Abraham Nunez, who reached on an infield hit and went to
second on Wright's wide throw from third that arrived near first
just as the runner was also arriving, leaving Jacobs, the first
baseman, on the ground after making contact with Nunez.

Nunez advanced to third on Yadier Molina's sacrifice before
Luna's one-out hit.

Game notes
RF Walker committed his first error of the season when he
booted Victor Diaz's single in the second, allowing an extra base.
... Albert Pujols' cousin, Cardinals' sixth-round pick Wilfredo
Pujols, was at the ballpark before the game. ... Paid attendance of
45,616 was the Cardinals' 40th sellout, and 15th in a row. ...
Eckstein had two hits and is 26-for-64 (.406) during his hitting
streak, which is one shy of his career best in 2002.