NEW YORK -- Every time he connects at the plate, Carlos Beltran looks more attractive to those playoff contenders interested in trading for him.
What his New York Mets teammates would really like, however, is to make their own run at October with Beltran by their side.
"What's the option, give up? Let us take it down a different path? We want to make it hard for the front office," starting pitcher R.A. Dickey said.
Beltran, who can become a free agent after the season, is at the center of trade talk all around baseball. The switch-hitting slugger is perhaps the biggest prize available on the market as the July 31 non-waiver deadline approaches.
"Not really thinking about it. I hear what you hear, but I have to prepare myself and help the team any way I can," he said. "I cannot assume anything right now. Nobody's talked to me. Nobody's said anything to me."
Albert Pujols was not in the St. Louis starting lineup, rested against Dickey's knuckleball with a scorching day game on deck Thursday. But the Cardinals built a 4-0 lead for Kyle McClellan, who is 0-5 with a 5.48 ERA in his last eight starts.
Matt Holliday had three hits and two RBIs for St. Louis. Locked in a tight race near the top of the NL Central, the Cardinals have dropped four of five since the All-Star break.
"You've got to finish out games and we haven't been able to do that very well," Holliday said. "We've got two months left, 2½ months left. So yeah, you've got to start winning games. I mean, you're not going to win the division and accomplish your goals losing. But at the same time, you don't panic and start doubting yourself."
The teams are back at it Thursday at 12:10 p.m., with expected temperatures in the mid-90s accompanied by sweltering humidity.
Pagan connected on the first pitch from Fernando Salas (5-4), hitting a drive off the facing of the second deck in right field for his first career game-ending homer.
"Fastball, right down Broadway," Pagan said.
Right after he connected, Pagan pumped his fist and watched the ball fly as he tossed his bat aside. When he returned to home plate, he was mobbed by teammates in a joyous celebration.
"I can't hit a ball any harder than that," said Pagan, happy that his family was in the crowd. "You want to be a role model for your kids. It's great for them to see something like this."
Jason Isringhausen (2-0), also potential trade bait, worked two scoreless innings for the win -- one night after notching his 294th career save and first this season. Facing his former team, the veteran right-hander struck out Pujols, Holliday and Lance Berkman in succession.
"That was a strange game in some ways," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "At the end of the game we did a lot of chasing, which is not our style."
Pujols entered as a pinch-hitter with a runner on third and two outs in the seventh. He fouled out against reliever Pedro Beato, keeping the score tied at 4, and remained in the game at first base.
Backup catcher Gerald Laird put St. Louis ahead in the eighth with a savvy bunt single.
"I've done that a few times," Laird said. "We had plenty of chances to win the game today, we just didn't get it done."
A throwing error by shortstop Daniel Descalso on a tough play allowed Pagan to reach safely leading off the bottom of the inning. He scored from third when Thole lined Motte's second pitch to left.
With two outs in the fifth and the Mets down 4-2, Beltran worked an eight-pitch at-bat against McClellan and sent a two-run shot soaring deep into the second deck in right field for his 15th homer.
Five innings later, the Mets completed the comeback.
"He's a human being," manager Terry Collins said about Beltran. "He's dealt with it before. In his heart, he wants to be here. It's where he wants to play."
A fan ran into the outfield in the top of the sixth and eluded several security guards for a while before he was tackled -- not far from Beltran. The fan was detained and led away through a gate in the right-field fence. ... It was the first time Pujols didn't start since he came off the DL on July 5. ... All-Star catcher Yadier Molina was also rested. La Russa said he might give Berkman a breather Thursday. ... Mets left fielder Jason Bay left with a tight right hamstring, brought on by him favoring a sore hip of late. He was replaced by Willie Harris in the fourth and his status for Thursday was uncertain. ... New York activated Thole from the paternity leave list and optioned infielder Ruben Tejada to Triple-A Buffalo. Thole and his wife, Kathryn, welcomed their first child Tuesday night and named the boy Camden. ... Mets third baseman David Wright (lower back) played his sixth rehab game for Class A St. Lucie. He went 2-for-2 with two singles and two walks as the DH against Clearwater. Wright is expected to return to the lineup this weekend in Florida.