St. Louis cut its magic number in half with a 10-5 win over the Brewers

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Cardinals built their NL Central lead as Houston ended its winning streak.

ST. LOUIS -- When the Busch Stadium organist began playing the "Tomahawk Chop" ditty Friday night, the St. Louis Cardinals knew it was good news: The Houston Astros had finally lost.

Then the Cardinals handled things from their end in a 10-5 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday night, getting Jeff Weaver's first win in nine home starts and home runs from Albert Pujols and Preston Wilson.

"I don't think you'll hear the Braves chant going too often here," Weaver said. "But it was nice to hear, and a big swing for us."

St. Louis (82-77) increased its division lead to 1 1/2 games over second-place Houston (81-79), which lost 4-1 at Atlanta. The Cardinals had a seven-game lead with 12 games to go but wasted nearly all of it by losing eight of nine.

The Cardinals cut their magic number to two for clinching a third straight NL Central title. After two more games with the Brewers, the Cardinals would host San Francisco on Monday in the makeup of a Sept. 17 rainout if it's needed to decide the division.

Fans were doing the tomahawk chop while keeping track of the two games, although manager Tony La Russa said he wasn't aware that the Astros had lost until he heard the familiar chords.

"I thought that was really a good touch. Very smart," La Russa said. "And our fans enjoyed it."

Now La Russa wants his team to get the division clinched.

"What we've got to make sure we do is what we've had trouble doing: keeping our eye on the finish line and backing up solid games," La Russa said. "That's an important two-step, but we've got to make sure nothing's different about our game tomorrow."

Wilson hit a two-run homer in the second and Pujols added a three-run drive in a five-run third as St. Louis built an 8-1 lead against Chris Capuano (11-12). Wilson has been 1-for-13 against Capuano.

"He's pretty much handled me," Wilson said.

Juan Encarnacion had four hits and Scott Rolen three. Cardinals leadoff hitter David Eckstein returned after missing four starts with a strained left hamstring. Eckstein, who was not in the original lineup, was 1-for-3 with an infield hit before leaving for a pinch hitter in the seventh.

Weaver (5-4) allowed three runs and seven hits in 5 2-3 innings, working out of trouble in the first, second and fourth innings. He had been 0-3 with a 6.82 ERA at home. Although he has an 8.13 ERA in his last five starts overall, Weaver is 3-0 in that span.

"This is whatwe play the whole season for, to be in a situation like this," Weaver said. "Everything turned out great."

Capuano (11-12) gave up eight runs -- six earned -- and seven hits in five innings, dropping 0-4 with a 5.93 ERA in his last seven starts.

"Definitely not the way I'd like to finish the season, especially the last two games with the team scoring a lot of runs and playing well behind me," Capuano said. "That's a tough thing to take on into the offseason."

Geoff Jenkins put Milwaukee ahead with an RBI single in the first, but Wilson's homer gave St. Louis the lead for good and Pujols' 48th homer -- his second three-run drive in three days -- made it 8-1.

Corey Hart hit a two-run homer with two outs in the sixth, and Prince Fielder and Bill Hall hit consecutive homers in the eighth off Randy Flores. Hall is 17-for-32 with four homers and 10 RBIs in his last nine games.

Notes: Capuano was 8-4 with a 3.43 ERA at home and 3-8 with a 4.59 ERA on the road. ... Rolen has 47 doubles, two shy of his career high, in 2003. ... Fielder leads NL rookies with 27 homers, one more than Florida's Dan Uggla.

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