Finley wins with an eye toward Arizona playoff series

Sunday, September 29, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- Chuck Finley's 200th career victory wasn't the first thing he thought about Saturday.

"I'm more excited about going to the playoffs," he said after leading the Cardinals over the Milwaukee Brewers 3-1. "It's probably something in the offseason that I'll enjoy but, obviously, it was a big game for us. It meant something, so that's good."

Scott Rolen hit a two-run homer for the NL Central champions, who have won 20 of their last 24 and will open the postseason Tuesday against Arizona.

Going into the final day of the regular season, they remained one game behind the Diamondbacks in the competition for home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

In today's game, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa is starting Andy Benes instead of Jamey Wright in the regular-season finale. Benes pitched seven shutout innings against Arizona on Tuesday.

"The best scenario would have been if the game, win or lose, didn't matter," Benes said, "but it's an opportunity for me."

If the Diamondbacks and Cardinals finish with identical records, the Cardinals would get home-field advantage based on their 4-2 record in head-to-head play.

"It's always an advantage, with the fans we have and the way we've played this year at this park, not having to get on a plane and travel would be huge," Finley said. "We've already been here for 10 days so that would be something great for us."

Rolen was 0-for-4 and struck out with runners on first and third in the eighth inning of a 2-1 loss Friday, several hours after agreeing to a $90 million, eight-year contract extension.

"Yesterday was a little hectic," he said. "The whole press conference thing, that's not my cup of tea. Today I came in and felt a little more comfortable, a little more relaxed, and concentrated a little better."

The Brewers tied a franchise record with their 55th road loss, matching the mark set in 1970, their first season in Milwaukee. They're 25-55 away from Miller Park.

"It doesn't matter where you play, you have to win," pitcher Glendon Rusch said. "Period."

Finley (7-4) allowed one run and two hits in six innings with seven strikeouts and two walks.

Finley, scheduled to start Game 2 of the playoffs following Matt Morris in the opener, won his last two starts to become the 101st pitcher to reach to 200 victories. His only problem came in the third, when Jim Rushford hit a leadoff bloop double and scored on Ronnie Belliard's one-out groundout.

Rolen hit his 31st homer off Glendon Rusch (10-16) after Albert Pujols walked to lead off the second. Pujols had an RBI double in the fifth for a 3-1 lead.

Pujols has 127 RBIs, one behind NL leader Lance Berkman, with one game to play. Last year's NL Rookie of the Year already is assured of becoming the first player in major league history to begin his career with two seasons with a .300 average, 30 homers, 100 runs and 100 RBIs.

Jason Isringhausen worked the ninth for his 32nd save in 37 chances.

Rusch threw 96 pitches in five innings, allowing three runs and four hits.

"Rusch got to a high pitch count again, which has been his M.O.," manager Jerry Royster said. "I think he's happy with what he's done and with the way he picked up his season."

The Brewers again held out Jose Hernandez, who's one strikeout from tying the major league record of 189, set by Bobby Bonds in 1970. Hernandez has missed the last three games.

Notes: Rolen has 31 homers and 110 RBIs, matching his season bests from 1998, when he was with the Phillies. ... The Cardinals are 9-7 against the Brewers. ... The Brewers haven't homered off a left-hander since they hit three off the Cubs' Steve Smyth in a Sept. 2 doubleheader opener. ... Brewers pitchers have given up at least one homer in eight of the last nine games. They're 33-79 when the staff gives up a home run.

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