Series: Game 3 of 4

St. Louis leads 2-1 (as of 9/30)

Game 1: Thursday, September 28
St. Louis4
Game 2: Friday, September 29
St. Louis10
Game 3: Saturday, September 30
St. Louis3
Game 4: Sunday, October 1
St. Louis3

Brewers 2

(74-87, 26-54 away)

Cardinals 3

(83-77, 49-30 home)

    1:25 PM ET, September 30, 2006

    Busch Stadium, St. Louis, Missouri 

    123456789 R H E
    MIL 000000200 2 5 0
    STL 00000003 - 3 10 0

    W: T. Johnson (2-4)

    L: B. Shouse (1-3)

    S: A. Wainwright (3)

    Cards win, one win (or Astros loss) from clinching

    ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Before Saturday, Scott Spiezio's numbers as a pinch-hitter from the left side were just as futile as the St. Louis Cardinals' record the last few weeks.

    After Spiezio's bases-loaded triple in the eighth inning beat the Milwaukee Brewers 3-2, both his 1-for-20 slump and his team's late-season swoon are on the verge of becoming footnotes. The Cardinals, who had lost eight of the previous 10, cut their magic number for clinching a third straight NL Central title to one.

    Elias Says
    Scott Spiezio
    Scott Spiezio's pinch-hit three-run triple was the difference in the Cardinals' 3-2 win against Milwaukee. It was the first pinch-hit triple with the bases loaded in the majors this year and there's been exactly one in each of the previous three seasons. The St. Louis home crowd also enjoyed one of those hits on April 29, 2004, when Reggie Sanders hit a pinch-hit three-run three-bagger against the Phillies.

    • For more Elias Says, click here

    "Numbers to me don't really matter," Spiezio said. "Anything that happens in the past doesn't matter, and if you start thinking about your numbers it can affect the future.

    "I just go up there and try to keep everything simple, and that's what I did."

    Second-place Houston rallied to beat the Braves 5-4 in Atlanta.

    "Nobody got to the point where we started getting down on our team," Preston Wilson said after getting two hits and two stolen bases. "Nobody started pointing fingers.

    "We just said, 'Hey, we've got to get it done.'"

    The Cardinals' had a once-imposing seven-game lead with 12 games to go shaved to a half-game on Thursday before rallying behind a pair of retreads. Jeff Weaver, who won for the first time at home on Friday, had been released by the Angels.

    Spiezio, 34, was the starting third baseman on the Angels' 2002 World Series championship team. But he played in only 29 games last year for the Mariners before coming to the Cardinals as a non-roster invitee to spring training.

    The switch-hitting Spiezio is 8-for-36 overall as a pinch-hitter with two homers and eight RBI. He's been much better in the lineup, batting .271 in 61 starts.

    "He just had a couple of years where I don't think physically he was himself," manager Tony La Russa said. "Since the first day he showed up in spring training, he's been very impressive."

    Batting for light-hitting catcher Yadier Molina, Spiezio cleared the bases on a 1-2 pitch from closer Francisco Cordero. Pinch-hitter Jeff Cirillo's two-run single, his 1,000th hit with Milwaukee, had put the Brewers ahead.

    "He came up big for them," Cirillo said. "He's really turned his career around and been a huge part of their team."

    Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter, who's faltered in his last two starts, will oppose Carlos Villaneuva on Sunday unless the division title is already in hand. Then, the Cardinals would save him for the playoffs.

    "You've got to think about it: Carpenter pitches tomorrow, then he doesn't pitch -- if we win -- till the middle of the series," La Russa said. "You've got a night, what else are you going to think about?"

    St. Louis might have to play a makeup game against the Giants on Monday if it's necessary to decide the division. And if it's tied after that, a one-game playoff would be Tuesday in Houston after the Astros won a coin flip.

    Albert Pujols singled for his second hit to lead off the eighth against Jose Capellan and went to third on Scott Rolen's double with one out. Brian Shouse (1-3) intentionally walked Juan Encarnacion to load the bases.

    Pujols passed up a chance to get the Cardinals on the board when he went halfway down the line on Ronnie Belliard's line out to right off Cordero for the second out. Spiezio's fourth triple made that decision academic.

    Cordero has blown his last two save chances after starting with 16 in a row for the Brewers. He was attempting his first five-out save since joining Milwaukee.

    "It was a great game," Brewers manager Ned Yost said. "Our guys took a responsibility to come in and make the St. Louis Cardinals earn it. They beat our best."

    Tyler Johnson (2-4) pitched a scoreless eighth and fellow rookie Adam Wainwright got three outs for his third save.

    Cirillo grounded a single up the middle with the bases loaded in the seventh off Jeff Suppan. Geoff Jenkins and Corey Hart hit consecutive one-out singles and Suppan walked eighth-place hitter Mike Rivera on four pitches with two outs.

    Suppan had two of the Cardinals' seven hits against Ben Sheets, who pitched six scoreless innings. In seven innings he allowed two runs and five hits.

    Sheets lost to the Cardinals on Sept. 19, the day before they lost the first of seven in a row, and is now 4-13 lifetime against St. Louis. He struck out seven and walked one, and in his last two appearances he has allowed two runs in 14 innings.

    "I felt all right," Sheets said "They battled me right until the end and they were able to battle me enough until I was pretty much done."

    Sheets struck out the side in the sixth but needed a fourth out after Jim Edmonds reached on a third-strike wild pitch in the dirt to put runners at the corners with one out. Sheets recovered to strike out Belliard and then got Molina on a grounder.

    Pujols' diving catch of David Bell's liner to first helped Suppan escape trouble in the second. Jenkins hit a leadoff double but was stranded at third.

    Game notes

    Encarnacion, who is 1-for-20 against Sheets, did not start after getting four hits on Friday ... The Brewers are 26-54 on the road, second-worst in the NL. ... The Cardinals are 39-41 against the NL Central.

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press