NEW YORK -- Jim Edmonds and Andy Benes sent an early message to the New York Mets.
Just eight pitches in, Edmonds gave St. Louis its first lead of the series, then Benes preserved it by getting Mike Piazza to hit into a first-inning double play.
So don't stock up on those subway tokens just yet.
Left for dead after losing the first two games in St. Louis, the Cardinals jumped on Rick Reed and the Mets early and delayed New York's Subway Series planning with an 8-2 win Saturday in Game 3 of the NL championship series.
"In St. Louis, nobody is talking about the Subway Series," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "You come to New York and obviously people are pulling for the home teams. We're not going to give in or give up. We come from the Midwest and that's not what people want there."
Benes pitched eight strong innings for his first postseason win, Edgar Renteria had two RBIs and two runs scored, and all nine Cardinals starters had hits as St. Louis' offense broke out after being held to seven runs at home.
History, however, is still on the Mets' side: Only three teams -- none in an LCS -- have won a best-of-seven series after dropping the first two games at home. Game 4 is Sunday at Shea Stadium, with Darryl Kile starting on three days' rest for St. Louis against Bobby J. Jones.
"We don't have to give them life," New York's Jay Payton said. "They've got life. We didn't have the fire that we've had the last few games. It wasn't in the cards today."
With the Yankees and Mets both moving within two wins of the World Series, talk around New York has centered on the possibility of the city's first Subway Series in 44 years.
The Cardinals dampened that quickly. After trailing 2-0 before even batting in the first two games, St. Louis returned the favor at Shea Stadium.
"They had scored early against us," Benes said. "It was nice to break out early. It was comfortable to know I'd have a few runs to work with."
Fernando Vina lined a leadoff single to left and Renteria reached when third baseman Robin Ventura misplayed his sacrifice bunt for an error.
Edmonds, held in check by the Mets' tough left-handers in St. Louis, lined a two-run double to left field off the right-handed Reed to make it 2-0 just eight pitches into the game and give St. Louis its first lead of the series.
"It's a tough lineup to deal with right-handed or left-handed," Reed said. "They seem to handle left-handers OK, but they really knock around right-handers."
It was a rare clutch hit in the series for the Cardinals. They went 3-for-28 with runners in scoring position in St. Louis, before going 7-for-16 in Game 3.
Benes, pitching for the first time in 13 days, allowed two runs and six hits in his first postseason appearance in four years. He was held out of Arizona's division series loss to the Mets in 1999 and wasn't used this year by the Cardinals in their first-round win against Atlanta.
"I had a divine appointment today," Benes said. "I didn't get to pitch here last year. I had to sit in the bullpen and watch. I'm just thankful I had the opportunity to go out there."
The Mets looked like they would exploit Benes' rustiness in the first when Timo Perez and Edgardo Alfonzo opened with singles to put runners on first and third. Mike Piazza then hit into a run-scoring double play that killed any rally.
"That was the key for us," Cardinals catcher Carlos Hernandez said. "Everybody knows how good a hitter Piazza is. Everybody expected him to hit it out of the park. But Andy kept the ball down and got a big out."
Mark McGwire finally got a chance to swing the bat for St. Louis. Mighty Mac, reduced to pinch-hitting duties by tendinitis in his right knee, was limited to an intentional walk in the first two games.
La Russa didn't wait long to use his biggest weapon, pinch hitting McGwire for Ray Lankford with the bases loaded and two outs in the fourth against Glendon Rusch.
With the fans on their feet waving white towels, McGwire skied a fly ball to left field that Benny Agbayani caught well in front of the warning track, keeping St. Louis' lead at 5-1. That was about all the crowd of 55,693 had to cheer about.
"We were just trying to add to the lead," La Russa said. "There was a lot of game left. This is one of those situations that works best for Mark, so I took a shot."
New York's only other run also came on a double-play grounder by Jay Payton in the fourth that made it 5-2. The Mets nearly had more that inning, but Edmonds made a running catch in center field to rob pinch-hitter Darryl Hamilton of a hit with runners on first and third and two outs.
"He made really good pitches when he had to," Mets manager Bobby Valentine said. "We had him on the ropes a couple of times, but we couldn't put him away."
Lankford had an RBI single in the third and Fernando Tatis added a sacrifice fly that made it 4-1. Reed was knocked out the next inning after Renteria's RBI single. The Cardinals broke the game open with three runs in the fifth off Rick White.
Notes: The Cardinals were 78-44 against right-handed starters this year and 17-23 against lefties. They also hit 21 points higher against left-handers. ... Keith Hernandez, who won the 1982 World Series with St. Louis and in 1986 with the Mets, threw out the first pitch. ... Piazza made a leaping grab to snare a foul popup by J.D. Drew, taking a souvenir from Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. The play drew applause from New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was sitting one row behind DeWitt. ... Alfonzo has hit in nine straight postseason games, longest in Mets history. ... Cardinals C Carlos Hernandez painted his finger nails white to help Benes read his signs.
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