Series: Game 3 of 3

St. Louis won 3-0

Game 1: Tuesday, September 17
St. Louis 11Final
Colorado 4
Game 2: Wednesday, September 18
St. Louis 8Final
Colorado 5
Game 3: Thursday, September 19
St. Louis 12Final
Colorado 6

Cardinals 12

(89-63, 45-36 away)

Rockies 6

(69-84, 44-34 home)

    3:05 PM ET, September 19, 2002

    Coors Field, Denver, Colorado 

    123456789 R H E
    STL 211200150 12 - -
    COL 013000200 6 - -

    W: J. Simontacchi (11-5)

    L: J. Jennings (16-8)

    Cardinals reduce magic number to 2

    DENVER (AP) -- The St. Louis Cardinals couldn't have been much more efficient than this: They came to Coors Field with a magic number of seven to clinch the NL Central and left Thursday with the number at two.

    Scott Rolen

    "We're closing in on the finish line,'' manager Tony La Russa said. "Our boys can smell it.''

    Scott Rolen hit his fourth homer in three games as the Cardinals beat the Colorado Rockies 12-6 for their 13th win in the last 15 games.

    By sweeping the three-game series while division runner-up Houston was losing two of three to Milwaukee, the Cardinals increased their lead to 8 games. St. Louis has 10 games remaining and Houston nine, and those teams begin a three-game series Friday at Busch Stadium.

    "We all can feel it,'' said second baseman Fernando Vina, who had three hits and two RBI.

    "It's been a tough year for us with the tragedies and the things that have happened. We've got to keep going hard so we can finish it up at home. When it happens, it's going to be something real special.''

    The Cardinals used the same formula to win all three games here -- jump out to an early lead, let it get close, then use a big inning late in the game to clinch it.

    After Colorado cut the deficit to 7-6, Eli Marrero, Jim Edmonds and Albert Pujols hit consecutive solo homers in the eighth off Todd Jones. Wilson Delgado capped the five-run inning with a two-run double.

    "If you told me 10 days ago when we started this trip that we would go 8-2 and get the magic number down to two, I would have said we would have had to play really great ball every game,'' La Russa said. "And that's what we've done.

    "In the end, we just made a lot of things happen in this series. I think everybody who played did something good. It was a great series for us.''

    Jason Simontacchi (11-5) allowed four runs and six hits in six innings to earn the win and outduel fellow rookie Jason Jennings.

    La Russa said Simontacchi "did exactly what he's been doing. He's competitive as heck and tough with men on base. He helps himself with his fielding and his hitting and his running.''

    Simontacchi called it "a darn good road trip. We swept Milwaukee, won two of four from Houston and then swept here. We're playing good defense, our bats are alive and we're pitching well in and out of the pen. That's all you can ask for.''

    Jennings (16-8) failed in his third attempt at his 17th win, which would tie the Colorado single-season record set by Kevin Ritz in 1996 and equaled by Pedro Astacio in 1999. Jennings allowed six runs -- four earned -- and 10 hits in five innings.

    "St. Louis has a better team than us and more depth,'' Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "We wouldn't go away. We were resilient enough to kept coming back, but every time we'd land a punch they'd land two more.''

    Jennings walked the bases loaded in the first and appeared to have gotten out of the jam, but second baseman Brent Butler booted Tino Martinez's two-out grounder, allowing two runs to score.

    Vina had an RBI single in the second, and Rolen hit his 28th homer in the third to make it 4-1.

    The Rockies, who got a run in the second on Larry Walker's double and Jack Cust's RBI single, tied it in the third on Greg Norton's three-run double. Jennings and Juan Pierre both singled, and Walker walked to load the bases. Norton cleared the bases with a double down the right-field line.

    St. Louis went ahead 6-4 in the fourth, again capitalizing on a Colorado error. Simontacchi singled and scored on Vina's triple. Norton leaped high to grab Marrero's chopper to third base, but his throw to first was wild, allowing Vina to score.

    Pinch-hitter Ivan Cruz made it 7-4 with an RBI single in the seventh.

    In the Rockies half, pinch-hitter Ben Petrick hit a two-run homer off Jeff Fassero. It was Petrick's third homer in two games.

    Game notes

    Walker left the game in the fourth with soreness in his left shoulder, an injury that has bothered him most of the month. ... The Cardinals hit three consecutive homers for the second time this season. They also did it July 2 against San Diego. ... St. Louis is 13-5 in its last 18 road games. ... The Cardinals have had big innings in the latter stages of their last three games, scoring seven runs in the eighth on Tuesday and five runs in the ninth on Wednesday. ... The 12 runs and 18 hits matched season highs for the Cardinals. ... Colorado's Jay Payton, out since Sept. 11 when he strained his right oblique muscle, pinch-hit in the ninth.

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press