<
>

Lankford homers, maybe for final time

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.

Edgar Renteria, Reggie Sanders and Mike Matheny drove in a run
apiece in a four-run third and Molina added his second homer in the
seventh.

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."

Game notes
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.