ST. LOUIS, SEPT. 29 -- The knockout punch was delivered tonight to the Montreal Expos, who ran into the St. Louis Cardinals' pitching buzz saw and incredible defensive play.
The Cardinals had seven hits in the two games, but their first consecutive shutouts since 1985 put them 3 1/2 games ahead of the Mets and five ahead of the Expos.
Joe Magrane pitched a three-hit shutout in the opener, then Greg Mathews and Todd Worrell pitched a four-hitter in the nightcap as the Cardinals swept the Expos, 1-0 and 3-0, in a dramatic twi-night doubleheader before 48,142 at Busch Stadium.
The sweep all but eliminated the Expos from the NL East race, reducing the Cardinals' magic number against Montreal to one. With the Mets' 3-0 loss to Philadelphia, all the Cardinals need is one victory over the Mets in the season-ending series here this weekend.
But if the Cardinals pitch and play defense in the last two games against Montreal as they did tonight, the series with the Mets will mean nothing.
"You can't worry about New York," said Worrell, who got his 33rd save of the season with three shutout innings, including two huge strikeouts of Tim Wallach and Andres Galarraga with two on in the seventh.
"This game right here was the biggest game of the season," Cardinals Manager Whitey Herzog said. "That might have been his best performance yet, with the possible exception of his World Series performance."
The Cardinals won the nightcap by scoring three runs in that oh-so-irritating or oh-so-textbook manner they are famous for. They had three hits, a bloop double by Tony Pena and two that never left the infield. Vince Coleman stole a base, Ozzie Smith, two. Tom Herr and Willie McGee had sacrifice flys.
When it was over, so was, for all intents and purposes, the Expos' season, because Worrell was simply overpowering.
In the opener, Herr's sacrifice fly in the sixth scored Coleman with the game's run.
Magrane's victories may be few, but they have come at crucial times. Tonight's victory was the sixth time this season Magrane (9-7) has stopped a Cadinals' losing streak.
The Expos had won the last five meetings between the two clubs, giving up only seven runs in the last four. Montreal also had a 4-1 record in Busch Stadium this season. And the Expos were 18-3 in games that Dennis Martinez started.
Despite three errors (including a rare one by Smith at shortstop, his 10th of the season), Magrane benefited from defensive gems, the most important of which came in the fifth inning with the game scoreless.
With two out, center fielder McGee literally booted a double in the gap by Wallach, kicking the ball almost to the left field foul line.
But third baseman Terry Pendleton came up with a stop against Galarraga that prevented an RBI double. Pendleton dived toward the line, came up and fired. First baseman Dan Driessen dug out the low throw for the last out.
"I just felt like it was a big play for us," Pendleton said. "I honest to God have no idea how I got to that ball. I just reacted to it and the ball took a bad hop on me, and I still got to it."
Coleman led off the bottom of the sixth with a walk, then went to third on a hit-and-run play with Smith. Herr drove Coleman in after home plate umpire Ed Montague called and then rescinded a balk on Martinez.
Through seven innings, Martinez gave up three hits, walked two and struck out five. Only one of the hits -- Smith's -- came after the second inning. But it cost him.
"I was really impressed with Dennis," said new Cardinal Doug DeCinces, acquired Tuesday by the Cardinals in a desperate attempt to get some hitting punch into their lineup with first baseman Jack Clark still out.
"He had great composure out there. I always considered him one of the great arms. He looked fantastic."
Magrane made the run stand up, and the crowd got a big out-of-town score between games when the Mets' final was posted.
Clark had said he would try out his severely sprained right ankle in batting practice before today's games, but opted to wait until before Wednesday's game against Montreal.
The nightcap was just as good pitching-wise, with Mathews and Bryn Smith (10-9) hooked up in another purist's dream. Neither team had a man on until Tim Raines' single led off the fourth.
Smith had a no-hitter going into the sixth. But Pena led off with a bloop double down the right field line that fell in between Galarraga, second baseman Casey Candaele and right fielder Mitch Webster.
Mathews then hit a chopper. Candaele's only play was at third, because Galarraga was charging in expectation of a bunt and no one was covering first. But Pena beat the throw.
Coleman hit another squibber, this one at Galarraga. But he couldn't pick up the ball cleanly and made no throw, loading the bases. Smith hit a dribbler at Candaele, who threw home this time. And again, Pena beat his throw.
Coleman and Smith pulled off a double steal of second and third. Herr knocked in Coleman. Smith then stole third and scored on McGee's fly to left.
Worrell then took over for Mathews after Raines and Webster opened the seventh with singles. He closed the window of opportunity.
And all that's needed for the Cardinals is a victory or two on their own field. "I'm not thinking about tomorrow, really," Pendleton said. "But it's a sweet feeling. I'd love to wrap it up before the Mets even get here."