NEW YORK -- Johan Santana was struggling. He had gone to 3-0 counts on four of his first 11 batters -- something he hadn't done in an entire game in six years, not counting intentional walks.
"My fastball," he said, "was moving all over the place."
Santana went back to the clubhouse and reviewed video following the first inning. He re-examined his mechanics.
And he emerged victorious over Chris Carpenter in a sparkling matchup of Cy Young Award winners.
"I know I was going against a great pitcher," Santana said. "It was going to take one pitch or one mistake to change the whole ballgame."
A crowd of 41,221 was on hand, the largest in Citi Field history and the first sellout since opening day. In addition to the starters, fans were drawn by discounts of up to 50 percent on some tickets.
Even with Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes, John Maine and Oliver Perez on the disabled list, the Mets took three of four from the Cardinals and closed within a half-game of NL East-leading Philadelphia heading into the first Subway Series at Citi Field.
Santana (9-5), the AL Cy Young Award winner for Minnesota in 2004 and 2006, made his second straight solid start since allowing a career-high nine runs in a 15-0 loss to the Yankees on June 14. He gave up two runs -- one earned -- and seven hits in seven innings to win for the first time in three starts and lower his ERA to 3.08.
"The guy's no slouch," Carpenter said. "He knows how to pitch."
Santana's key at-bat came after loading the bases with a second-inning, two-out walk to Skip Schumaker. Santana started Albert Pujols with a fastball inside, then followed with a changeup. Pujols, who had been 5 for 5 with three grand slams with the bases loaded this year, hit an inning-ending flyout to Fernando Tatis just in front of the warning track in left at the spacious park.
"He just got himself out," Santana said.
Pedro Feliciano pitched a one-hit eighth, and Francisco Rodriguez finished for his 20th save in 22 chances. He struck out his first two batters, walked Pujols on four pitches and Ryan Ludwick on five, then retired Yadier Molina on a game-ending lineout to left.
"I think he likes the edge a little bit. I don't," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said.
New York had lost four straight series since winning two of three games at Washington from June 5-7. It doesn't get easier: The Mets face 2007 AL Cy Young winner CC Sabathia on Friday and A.J. Burnett on Sunday.
"As a hitter, that's not much fun," David Wright said.
Carpenter (5-2), the NL Cy Young winner for the Cardinals in 2005, gave up three runs and four hits in seven innings.
St. Louis got an unearned run in the first on an RBI single by Molina that followed a catcher's interference call against Omir Santos.
Luis Castillo singled leading off the fourth for the Mets' first hit and Wright singled off Carpenter's glove, with the ball deflecting toward second baseman Joe Thurston. Tatis singled in the tying run with one out and Evans, dumped to Double-A after going 7 for 75 at Buffalo earlier this year, followed his two-run homer Wednesday with a two-out double into the right-field corner on a flat cutter.
"He keep hitting, he keep playing," Manuel said.
All St. Louis got after that was Thurston's two-out RBI single in the sixth.
"Just tough pitcher's luck," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "A groundball in the hole for hit. Then you get a double-play ball, deflects off the pitcher's glove. Evans put a great swing on it, and it's two runs."
Manuel will take it. He'd just rather avoid more tense games.
"I think they like making me old," he said.
Santana had not gone to 3-0 counts four times without intentional walks since July 23, 2003, according to STATS LLC. ... The Cardinals outhit the Mets 8-5 but went 2 for 12 with runners in scoring position and lost consecutive games for the first time since a five-game skid from June 8-9. ... Rodriguez isn't thinking about Yankees reliever Brian Bruney. The two nearly fought at Yankee Stadium two weeks ago. ... "I got better stuff to worry about," K-Rod said. ... Mets RHP John Maine (shoulder) is to make a rehab start Saturday for Class A Brooklyn at Aberdeen, and Oliver Perez (knee) is to pitch for the Cyclones at home against Hudson Valley on Sunday. ... Cardinals RHP Kyle Lohse (forearm strain) is to pitch three simulated innings to batters before Friday's game against Minnesota in St. Louis.