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Mets hitters chip away to help bail out Santana

Johan Santana did just about everything to bury the team within the first 19 minutes of play. But the Mets hitters refused to quit, methodically chipping away at St. Louis' lead until they were in striking distance.

Sparked by Angel Pagan's ninth home run of the season and Ike Davis' pinch-hit two RBI single, the Mets scored four runs in the eighth inning last night in front of 35,009.

Santana, who entered last night's game 3-0 with a 0.71 ERA in five July outings - the lowest in the majors - allowed a career-worst 13 hits in 52/3 innings, including six runs on eight hits in the first. It was his shortest outing since May 2 when he gave up 10 runs in 32/3 innings against the Phillies.

But the Mets rallied, turning a blowout into a nail-biter.

Trailing 7-3 heading into the eighth, Luis Castillo singled to leftfield to start the inning before Pagan (2-for-4) crushed a 2-and-2 pitch from reliever Mitchell Boggs into the centerfield bullpen to pull the Mets to within 7-5. They loaded the bases after David Wright picked up an infield hit, Mike Hessman was hit on the left forearm by a pitch and Josh Thole, who pinch-hit in the seventh for catcher Henry Blanco, drew a walk with two outs. That set the stage for Ike Davis, whose single to right scored Wright and Hessman, tying the score at 7. Though they failed to take the lead that inning, the Mets put two runners aboard in the ninth thanks to back-to-back singles by Wright and Beltran.

Coming into yesterday's game, the Mets starters hadn't allowed more than three runs in any of their last seven starts dating back to July 20. That, however, changed last night. At 7:30 - after 38 pitches - Santana's nightmarish half-inning ended with Albert Pujols flying out to centerfielder Carlos Beltran.

The Mets began to chip away at the lead starting in the first inning. Jose Reyes and Angel Pagan walked and scored on Hessman's double off the leftfield wall. It was the first two RBIs for the 32-year-old, who was called up on July 26. David Wright led off the sixth inning with a single off the leftfield wall, but he unsuccessfully tried to stretch it into a double and was thrown out by Holliday.

Carlos Beltran followed by hitting his first home run of the season - and 128th as a Met - to make the score 7-3, but Hessman flew out to centerfield and Jeff Francoeur grounded out to end the inning.

As expected, manager Jerry Manuel spoke promisingly about his club before the game.

"There's not much that separates us right now," he said. "We think that we put on the field a very talented group right now. Obviously we were in transition there for a while and the only way to identify how long the transition is, is to see when the guys start to come out of it like they did [Tuesday] night. You're hoping that that transition period is over. If that is the case, then we could qualify for being a good team. But if that's not the case then we're still a team that's still trying to find it and get it right."

Santana was pulled after giving up an RBI double to Holliday, which put St. Louis ahead 7-2 with two outs in the sixth inning. He was replaced by Manny Acosta who struck out Molina to end the threat.

Santana and Garcia last squared off on April 17 when the Mets outlasted the host Cards, 2-1, in a 20-inning marathon.

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