ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Two fastballs in bad places Wednesday were the
difference between a Curt Schilling gem and another late-season
disappointment for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Scott Rolen is tied for fifth in the National League with 108 RBI.
Schilling, a 23-game winner, struck out 12 and was flawless
except for a lone walk in six of his eight innings. But two-out,
three-run home runs by Scott Rolen and J.D. Drew gave the St. Louis
Cardinals a 6-1 victory and a sweep of the three-game series that
is a likely preview of the first round of the playoffs. "With Schilling pitching, I was worried about a no-hitter,''
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "He looked like he was going
to no-hit us for a while. But we had just two great swings of the
bat.'' The sweep left the Diamondbacks and Cardinals with identical
94-64 records with four games remaining in the regular season. The
record is important because the teams appear destined for a
best-of-5, first-round playoff meeting, and the team with the best
record gets home-field advantage. If they remain tied, the
Cardinals get the nod based on their 4-2 season series record
against Arizona. That would mean the first two games and a fifth,
if needed, in St. Louis The Cardinals have won four in a row, eight of nine, and 18 of
their last 21. Arizona has lost a season-worst six straight. Garrett Stephenson (2-5) struggled to throw strikes -- walking
five and striking out two, but gave up just one hit in five
innings. He threw 96 pitches, just 51 of them strikes. Stephenson missed most of the past two seasons with injuries,
and had been largely ineffective when he did pitch this season,
entering the game with a 6.08 ERA. He won 16 games for the
Cardinals in 2000 but is uncertain for the playoff roster. Schilling (23-7) was making his final start of the regular
season. He has 315 strikeouts, second to teammate Randy Johnson's
326, and just 33 walks. Schilling was 21-4 on Aug. 21. But over his last seven starts,
he is 2-3 and has allowed 28 earned runs in 50 1/3 innings. He gave
up a season-worst eight runs in 7 1/3 innings in his previous
start, a 9-4 loss at Colorado last Thursday. "It's the time of year where you've got to pitch well,''
Schilling said. "They did, we didn't.'' Arizona manager Bob Brenly had planned to start right hander
Armando Reynoso because he wanted to prevent the Cardinals from
seeing his two Cy Young candidates -- Schilling and Johnson, also a
23-game winner -- before the postseason. But with home-field
advantage at stake and with the San Francisco Giants climbing to
within three games of the NL West lead, Brenly went with Schilling.
He was sharp from the outset, striking out seven of the first
nine hitters before Fernando Vina and Eli Marrero singled to start
the fourth. Two outs later, Rolen hit a first-pitch fastball just
over the left-center field wall. It was his 30th homer and gave him
108 RBI, fifth-most in the National League.
In the eighth, Mike DiFelice singled and Vina doubled. With two
outs, J.D. Drew snapped a 1-for-25 skid with a homer over the right
field wall. Arizona's lone run came on Matt Williams' home run, his 10th, in
the sixth inning off Jeff Fassero. Though the Diamondbacks clinched a playoff spot when the Los
Angeles Dodgers lost to Colorado Tuesday night, they are struggling
to regain momentum. To make matters worse, they're playing the rest
of the way without their top power hitter, Luis Gonzalez, lost for
the season after separating his shoulder in a 13-1 loss to the
Cardinals Monday night. Since then, Arizona has scored three runs
in 23 innings. "I don't feel we're in trouble,'' Brenly said. "We're
frustrated -- we've got to do better than we're doing. But I don't
sense any panic.''
Schilling has won 45 games in his two full seasons in
Arizona., most in the major leagues since Baltimore's Jim Palmer
won 45 games in 1975-76. But he was 0-2 against St. Louis this
season. ... Since a seven-game losing streak that began in late
July, St. Louis is 35-13. ... Junior Spivey's line drive in the
third inning knocked the glove off of Stephenson's hand, but he
scrambled to pick up the ball and throw out the runner.