Cardinals 9, Brewers 4
ST. LOUIS (AP)—Rounding the bases, the thought crossed Ray Lankford’s mind that he just launched a nice parting shot.
The seldom-used outfielder hit a two-run pinch-hit homer in what could’ve been his final game with St. Louis, helping the Cardinals finish the regular season on a strong note with a 9-4 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday.
“It might be my last regular-season game, period,” Lankford said. “I thought about all of that.
“It was great just to go up there and hear the fans cheering for me.”
Albert Pujols doubled twice, So Taguchi doubled and tripled and Yadier Molina homered for the NL Central champions, who won only two of their last seven games. St. Louis finished a major league-best 105-57, one win shy of the franchise record for victories set in 1942. The Cardinals were 8-7 since clinching the division on Sept. 18.
“I think we worked really hard to keep that edge, but it’s been tough,” manager Tony La Russa said. “Guys had to manufacture stuff to get it going.
“Come Tuesday, it’ll be staring us in the face and guys will be excited.”
Despite their recent troubles, the Cardinals were 82-35 since May 27, when they entered the day with a 23-22 record. They’ll open the playoffs at home on Tuesday against the NL West champion Los Angeles Dodgers with St. Louis’ Woody Williams (11-8) opposing Odalis Perez (7-6).
“This is going to be a tough series, a fun series,” Williams said. “I look at their team and see a lot of us in them, and them in us.”
The Cardinals were 4-2 against the Dodgers, sweeping them in a three-game series Sept. 3-5 at St. Louis.
Lyle Overbay and Keith Ginter had RBI doubles for the Brewers, who finished 67-94—one victory behind last season’s total. The Brewers have had 12 straight losing seasons, tied with the Pirates for the longest current run of futility.
They were 8-9 against the Cardinals.
“We played all the division teams tough,” manager Ned Yost said. “It just shows you we’re close, we’re just not quite there yet.
“We’re just still a couple of players away from being really competitive in this division.”
Lankford is Busch Stadium’s career home run leader with 123 in 14 seasons and was the opening day left fielder, but he’s been used sparingly for most of the second half of the season. He missed 36 games with a sprained right wrist and hasn’t started since Sept. 11, making it highly unlikely he’ll make the postseason roster.
Lankford, 37, indicated he’ll probably retire. The fans seemed to sense it, demanding a curtain call after the homer.
“You love the game, but it gets frustrating,” Lankford said. “It’s no fun being hurt and not being able to go out and play.”
He turned back the clock in the sixth, hitting a 1-1 pitch from Jeff Bennett over the wall in right-center for his sixth homer of the season and the second pinch homer of his career to put the Cardinals ahead 6-3.
Pujols and Tony Womack followed with consecutive doubles to finish a three-run sixth for a 7-3 lead.
The Cardinals relied on its bullpen for the second straight game to conserve their starters for the postseason, and used eight pitchers for a three-game total of 20. Woody Williams was scheduled to start before he was named the Game 1 playoff starter Saturday, and Dan Haren was named the probable in his place.
On Sunday, La Russa decided he’d rather save Haren for potential long relief in the playoffs and gave Randy Flores his third career start. Haren was used in relief anyway, allowing three hits in 1 1-3 scoreless innings. Kiko Calero (3-1) allowed one hit in a scoreless fourth.
Brewers starter Jorge de la Rosa (0-3) worked five innings, giving up four runs on eight hits.
Overbay led the NL with 53 doubles and his hit in the first gave the Brewers the lead. In the fifth, Geoff Jenkins had an RBI single and Ginter hit a run-scoring double. Ginter added another RBI double in the ninth.
The last double came off closer Jason Isringhausen and it gave Overbay a .301 average, his first .300 season.
“When I saw him warming up I was like `Man, I don’t really want to face him to bring it down,”’ Overbay said. “But I guess I can say I earned it.”
Eight of Pujols’ last 10 hits have been doubles. He finished with 99 extra-base hits, including 46 homers and 51 doubles to tie his career high set last year. … A crowd of 39,849 boosted the Cardinals’ total to 3,048,427. … Jim Edmonds, mired in a 1-for-29 slump, got the day off and ended at .301. He hit 42 homers, one off the franchise record for a left-handed hitter set by Johnny Mize in 1940.