Finley wins for first time in five starts

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Chuck Finley, a big part of the St. Louis
Cardinals' postseason plans, put together another solid outing.

Finley pitched seven strong innings, rebounding from a shaky
start, and Albert Pujols hit a three-run homer in a 7-3 victory
over the Houston Astros on Sunday.

The Cardinals acquired Finley in July to bolster an
injury-plagued rotation, and he figures to start at least one game
in the first round of the playoffs.

''They got me over here to help them kind of stay where they
were and kind of get them over the hump and I contributed what I
thought I could,'' Finley said. ''The postseason is just an

''You want to go in there hitting on all cylinders and you want
to be one of the guys who can put it to the next round.''

The Cardinals, who clinched the National League Central on Friday, took two
of three from Houston and have won 15 of 18 overall. They finished
the season 13-6 against the Astros, their closest competition in
the division.

''It's another day where St. Louis proved that they were better
than us,'' Jeff Bagwell said. ''They just keep coming on the
attack, they play good defense and they've got good pitching.''

The Cardinals also moved closer to Arizona in the race for
home-field advantage in the first round. The Diamondbacks lead by
three games entering a three-game series that begins in St. Louis
on Monday.

''I think right now we're pleased we're in the playoffs,'' said
Jim Edmonds, who was 3-for-3 with an RBI and two runs scored.
''We're just going to play the games until we get there and if we
win, we win.

''If we don't, we'll go to Arizona and be happy about it.''

Finley (6-4) got his 199th career victory, winning for the first
time in five starts since Aug. 27. He was 0-1 in his previous four
starts, allowing 14 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings.

The left-hander gave up three runs, two earned, and five hits.
He did not walk a batter in his second career appearance against
the Astros and rebounded after giving up a two-run homer to Mark
Loretta in the first. Pujols' homer, in the bottom of the first,
helped a lot.

''I was kind of frustrated about putting us down like that, but
Albert came through like he has all year and put one in the
seats,'' Finley said. ''I felt like I got a second wind there.''

Finley also allowed a solo shot to Jason Lane in the fourth,
only the 10th homer he's allowed in his last 28 starts.

Jason Isringhausen struck out two in a perfect ninth, his first
appearance since Sept. 14. The right-hander had been sidelined with
a sore shoulder and should get some work in the final seven games
to stay sharp for the playoffs.

''I don't think we're going to be pitching back-to-back days or
anything like that,'' Isringhausen said. ''My season's pretty much
going to start again with the playoffs.''

The first four Cardinals batters reached base against rookie
Kirk Saarloos (6-7) in the first inning. Fernando Vina singled and
was caught stealing, then Eli Marrero walked and Edmonds singled
ahead of Pujols' 34th homer for a 3-2 lead. He has 124 RBI, four
behind NL leader Lance Berkman of the Astros.

Berkman came out of the game Saturday with tightness in his
hamstring and did not play Sunday.

Lane's second homer tied it with two outs in the fourth, but
Tino Martinez's 21st homer leading off the bottom half put the
Cardinals ahead to stay. St. Louis has hit 17 homers in the last
six games.

J.D. Drew had a sacrifice fly and Mike Matheny hit a run-scoring single
that bounded high off the third-base bag for a 6-3 lead in the

Edmonds' bloop single, which barely eluded a diving attempt by
Lane in right field, made it 7-3 in the seventh.

Saarloos lasted five innings in his first career start against
the Cardinals, giving up four runs on five hits. He's 0-4 in his
past five starts, giving up 19 earned runs in 26 1/3 innings.

''It's still at the point where when I get the ball up, it's hit
hard,'' Saarloos said. ''When I keep it down, I get guys out.''

Game notes
Pujols has an NL-leading 58 RBI since the All-Star break.
... Finley is 7-5 at home and 3-10 on the road. ... Edmonds is
7-for-11 in his past three games with two homers. ... Loretta is
7-for-14 in his past four games. ... The Astros have lost six of
nine and were eliminated from the NL wild-card race. ... Houston
left the bases loaded in the eighth when Dave Veres struck out
Bagwell and got Jose Vizcaino on a groundout.