NEW YORK (AP) - On a sweltering get-away day at Citi Field, Jake Westbrook helped his teammates beat the heat - and the Mets.
Albert Pujols hit a two-run homer in the first and Westbrook had the Mets pounding the ball into the ground over eight excellent innings as St. Louis beat New York 6-2 Thursday to avoid a three-game sweep and snap a three-game skid.
With the temperature already at 90 when the first pitch was thrown at 12:13 p.m., Westbrook (8-4) worked efficiently (90 pitches) and rapidly, and kept his infielders busy. Just as important, he let them quickly get back to the dugout and out of the scorching sun.
"That's the way he works all the time. This guy don't mess around," Pujols said. "Working fast, keeping the ball down. He had his sinker going today."
Westbrook recorded 17 outs on groundballs, including two double plays, and allowed only four hits and two runs. He walked one and struck out three, leading the Cardinals to only their second win since the All-Star break in a tidy 2 hours, 7 minutes.
"I think everybody appreciated it," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.
Pujols drove a pitch from Jonathon Niese (9-8) left up in the strike zone off the facade of the second deck in left field for his 21st home run of the season and a 2-0 lead.
What was the pitch Pujols sent flying?
"To tell you the truth, I don't even know," Pujols said. "I think it was the same pitch I pulled fouled earlier in the at-bat."
Westbrook, who came in with an ERA of 5.26 in his first full season with St. Louis, breezed through the first three innings.
"My stuff was the same. My command was better," he said. "I was able to harness it."
The Mets managed to get only one ball out of the infield against the sinkerballer as he retired the first nine batters.
Jose Reyes put an end to that. The major's leading hitter led off the fourth with his league-leading 16th triple, a drive high off the wall in left-center. Justin Turner followed with a grounder to short that cut the lead to 2-1.
The Cardinals came right back with three in the fifth, with the help of some shoddy Mets' defense.
After a double by No. 8 hitter Daniel Descalso and a walk to the pitcher, Nick Punto grounded wide of first base. First baseman Lucas Duda fielded the hopper, but his throw to second glanced off Westbrook's left shoulder and into the outfield, allowing a run to score.
Jon Jay followed with a groundball single up the middle that hit second base to drive in one run, and center fielder Angel Pagan gave the Cardinals another run when he threw behind Jay at first - with nobody covering for the Mets. Though St. Louis first base coach Dave McKay was in perfect position to field the toss, he let it skid toward the dugout.
The stray throw allowed Punto to score all the way from first and make it 5-1.
Niese tossed six innings and allowed five hits and three earned runs. He struck out seven, including Matt Holliday three times.
Jason Pridie cut the lead to 5-2 for the Mets with an RBI single in the eighth, but Skip Schumaker answered with a pinch-hit RBI single in the ninth.
Carlos Beltran played what could turn out to be his final home game with the Mets. The All-Star outfielder is in the last year of a seven-year contract and there has been seemingly endless speculation about New York trading him before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. The Mets won't return to Citi Field until Aug. 1.
"Right now, he's hitting third tomorrow in Miami," Mets manager Terry Collins said.
Beltran struck out, drew a walk to extend his streak of reaching base safely to 27 games and grounded out to second in his first three times up. Before his final at-bat in the ninth inning, the crowd of 37,416 at Citi Field gave Beltran an extended warm ovation, with many standing as he walked to the plate.
"He deserves the response the fans gave him," Collins said.
With one out and one on, Beltran hit a lazy fly to left field off reliever Mitchell Boggs and walked back to the dugout to a smattering of applause.
"I heard the fans cheering," Beltran said. "It was great. Let's hope I can come back."
Notes: Mets OF Jason Bay sat out with a tight hamstring, though he is expected to be back in the lineup Friday, manager Terry Collins said. ... Ryan Theriot served a one-game suspension from Major League Baseball for making contact with an umpire during an argument.