ST. LOUIS — One of the players who might have to move to another spot in the St. Louis Cardinals’ lineup to make way for Larry Walker helped them finish off the New York Mets.
Edgar Renteria tied his career high with five hits and the Cardinals handed Al Leiter his worst loss of the year in a 6-2 victory Sunday that completed a three-game sweep.
Renteria has batted second exclusively since July 2 and manager Tony La Russa said he will bat Walker either second or fourth most of the time, although he added “I ain’t going to get pinned down.”
Walker batted fifth in his first start, but only because Jim Edmonds got a day off.
“I don’t care,” Renteria said. “I’ll do the best I can do in any spot and try to help the team win.”
Renteria has batted second ahead of Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen 49 times and sixth 39 times. He was batting .307 with five home runs, 28 RBIs and 36 runs scored in 49 games, but will likely drop down to sixth, where he began the season, when everybody plays.
“I’ve been seeing more fastballs because Albert and Scotty are behind me,” Renteria said. “It’s a little bit of an advantage and they don’t want me getting on base.”
Jason Marquis (12-4) pitched six strong innings to win his ninth straight decision for the Cardinals, who have won 16 of 20 and raised their record to a major league-best 72-38. Leiter said St. Louis’ team is comparable to the Yankees.
“They’re right there,” Leiter said. “Coming out of spring, their lineup would have been considered more of a strength, but their pitching has been very good. I see those teams matching up very well.”
Rolen was 3-for-4 with an RBI and So Taguchi hit a two-run double for St. Louis, which had 12 hits.
The Cardinals have swept 11 series, nine of three or more games, and are 10-2 against the Mets the last two years.
Walker was 1-for-3 with an opposite-field RBI bloop double, a walk and two strikeouts. He received a standing ovation before his first at-bat, but struck out with a runner on second to end the first.
Walker said he was nervous at the start of the game, and joked about his hit.
“Yeah, that line drive off the wall in right-center,” Walker said. “Obviously, they all count and I’m happy to get on the board and score a run, drive in a run.
“All I need to do now is catch a fly ball.”
Leiter, the majors’ ERA leader, lasted only four innings. He gave up six runs on eight hits, and walked four and hit two batters, including Reggie Sanders with the bases loaded in the third to put the Cardinals ahead for good at 2-1.
Leiter (8-4) saw his ERA soar 40 points to 2.52, which is still tops in the majors. He was 7-1 with a 1.90 ERA in his previous 12 starts since returning from the disabled list with tendinitis in his left shoulder.
“Normally, all year, he’s been almost lights out for us,” manager Art Howe said. “He got some groundballs that we had trouble turning into a double play.”
Marquis settled down after allowing two hits and a sacrifice fly by Kaz Matsui to start the first, allowing five hits in six innings with six strikeouts and three walks.
Julian Tavarez came in with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth and walked Todd Zeile before getting Joe McEwing, the potential tying run, to ground out for his third save.
The Mets, who swept the Brewers before coming to St. Louis, finished without two starters. Catcher Vance Wilson was struck in the head by Albert Pujols’ backswing in the first inning, cutting his ear and bruising the back of his head.
Matsui left after the top of the fifth with back spasms. He has left each of the past two games early, leaving with soreness in his lower legs Saturday.
Renteria had an RBI double in the first, and followed up with four singles. Taguchi’s two-run double in the third came after Sanders gave the Cardinals a 2-1 lead when he was hit by a pitch.
Sanders, who was struck on the left elbow, left for a pinch hitter with what was described as a bruise. Manager Tony La Russa said Sanders probably would miss a few games.
Rolen and Walker drove in a run apiece in the fourth as the Cardinals made it 6-1 and chased Leiter.