The Associated Press

ST. LOUIS - A day off for Albert Pujols could not stall the St. Louis Cardinals.

Scott Spiezio had two hits and two RBI starting in place of the NL MVP, and Jason Marquis pitched into the eighth inning for his second consecutive strong outing in a 6-3 victory over the New York Mets on Thursday.

"He's been playing through a lot of stuff, so it's nice to be able to give him a day of rest and have the other guys step up," leadoff hitter David Eckstein said. "Spiezio went out and did a fantastic job."

Eckstein had three hits and two RBI and Scott Rolen added a run-scoring single for the Cardinals, who took two of three from the NL East leaders and are 17-5 against them the last four seasons.

Carlos Beltran hit a two-run home run and Jose Valentin had a solo shot for the Mets, who are in a 3-7 slump and have lost their last three series after beginning the season with eight series wins and two splits.

The Mets were happy to be heading home for a three-game, high-profile interleague series at Shea Stadium against the cross-town Yankees starting today.

"Well, the road trip is in the past," Beltran said. "As a team, you go through a lot of ups and downs. You know, we're hitting a bump and we're looking forward to getting out of it."

Eckstein, the only Cardinals player who's started every game, was 3-for-4 with an RBI single in the second and an RBI double in the sixth. Spiezio, capitalizing on Pujols' second day off, had an RBI single in both the first and fifth.

Spiezio has a lot of experience playing first base, getting regular duty for the Angels earlier in his career, but has only two starts there this season.

"I haven't played that much there this year," he said. "Of course, we have a pretty good guy over there. Anytime I can get a chance to play, I enjoy it."

Marquis (5-4) won his second straight start after losing four straight outings, allowing three runs on four hits in 72/3 innings with one strikeout and two walks. He's given up four runs in 142/3 innings the last two times out after surrendering 22 earned runs in 222/3 innings the previous four.

He still had some missteps. Beltran's two-run homer in the fourth and Valentin's solo homer in the eighth gave Marquis a team-high 10 homers allowed in 562/3 innings.

"I came back to my basics and I'm making pitches when I need to," Marquis said. "I keep working hard between starts to try to get things the way I want.

"I can't rest on what I did, I've just got to keep working."

The Mets put runners on second and third with one out in the ninth against Jason Isringhausen before the St. Louis closer wrapped up his 13th save in 15 chances.

The Cardinals wrapped up a 6-3 homestand that featured one series against a division leader and another against the Rockies, who were in first place in the NL West when they came to town. St. Louis is a major league best 18-7 at new Busch Stadium, all of the games sellouts.

"The nice part about that, you don't have to do any kind of special psyche to reach down for a little extra," manager Tony La Russa said. "Just the competition will get you going, and we had that the whole homestand."

Notes: Beltran has five homers and 13 RBI in his last 12 games. ... Eckstein leads the Cardinals with 17 multihit games and 50 hits overall. ... Mets bench coach Jerry Manuel was ejected in the bottom of the third.

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