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Cards fall behind D-Backs for homefield advantage

9/28/2002

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The worst team in the National League slowed
the St. Louis Cardinals' drive for home-field advantage in the
first round of the playoffs.

Ben Sheets wrapped up a late-season surge with seven sharp
innings and Matt Stairs homered and had three highlight-reel
catches in left field as the Milwaukee Brewers beat St. Louis 2-1
Friday night.

The NL Central champions fell a one-game behind the Arizona
Diamondbacks with two games to play in the race for home-field. It
was only St. Louis' fourth loss in 23 games, ending a five-game
winning streak.

"We didn't break through against their pitchers and all three
guys pitched very well for them,'' Cardinals manager Tony La Russa
said. "You've got to give them credit.''

The Brewers have 104 losses, by far the most in the NL and the
second-most in the majors, but didn't play like it.

"We've got guys still stepping it up with no time on the
clock,'' manager Jerry Royster said. "It's easy to just fold up
the tent, but as I've said many times before I'm not even concerned
about this team quitting.''

Milwaukee's Jose Hernandez, one strikeout from tying Bobby
Bonds' major league record of 189 in 1970, did not play for the
second consecutive game. Royster said he hadn't decided whether
Hernandez would play Saturday.

"I don't know, I don't know,'' Royster said. "He might play
tomorrow, though. We haven't made any final decision on it, to be
honest. Maybe not.''

Pinch-hitter Eric Young doubled off Rick White (5-7) to start
the eighth and advanced on a sacrifice.

With the infield playing in, third baseman Scott Rolen tried to
make a barehand play on Ronnie Belliard's high chopper and threw
wildly and just a bit late to the plate as the go-ahead run scored.

Rolen, who signed a $90 million, eight-year contract extension
earlier in the day, was charged with an error that allowed Belliard
to advance to second.

The Brewers were left with a punchless lineup with just 120
total RBI and four batters hitting below .200 after Richie Sexson
was ejected for arguing a called third strike to end the first.

Stairs hit his 16th homer off Jason Simontacchi with two outs in
the seventh, tying it at 1.

Mike DiFelice's fourth homer, and first since June 30, put the
Cardinals ahead with one out in the third.

Sheets (11-16) gave up a run on four hits with six strikeouts
and one walk. He allowed only two runs in 15 innings in his final
two starts of the season, and won six of his last eight decisions
overall.

Sheets didn't care about knocking off the Cardinals.

"I just worry about myself,'' he said. "I'm not going to make
the playoffs and I don't care who goes if I'm not going to make
it.''

Mike DeJean got four outs for his 27th save in 30 chances, and
15th in a row. He struck out three of his four batters.

Stairs made a diving catch to rob Kerry Robinson of a hit for
the final out. He also denied Fernando Vina to start the game and
Tino Martinez in the second.

"Ben Sheets is the hero. I'm no hero,'' Stairs said. "I'll
take the three web gems, though.''

Simontacchi, a 28-year-old rookie who propped up an
injury-riddled rotation earlier in the year, worked seven innings
and gave up a run on four hits. It could be his final start, since
the Cardinals will shorten their rotation in the playoffs.

"It wasn't like we beat up on Simontacchi, but we executed the
basic fundamentals,'' Royster said. "It's kind of Cardinal
baseball, right?''

Rolen was 0-for-4, and DeJean struck him out on three pitches
with runners at the corners for the final out in the eighth.

Game notes
Cardinals RF J.D. Drew was removed after being hit in the
ribs by a pitch in the sixth. Trainer Barry Weinberg said Drew has
bruised ribs. Coming in, he had homered in three straight games.
... St. Louis 2B Fernando Vina was hit by a pitch for the 18th
time, second-most in the NL. ... Jim Edmonds, who entered 6-for-12
against Sheets, was hitless in three at-bats.