ST. LOUIS (AP) - A scoreboard on the fritz kept the St. Louis Cardinals from finding out the inevitable. They found out soon enough.
Manager Tony La Russa said he didn't know for sure that the Cincinnati Reds had clinched the NL Central and eliminated the Cardinals from postseason contention until after St. Louis lost 7-2 to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night. But he had a pretty good idea.
``I know they quit showing the score and the last time they showed it was bases loaded and one out, so I thought it must not be a good result,' La Russa said. ``We didn't need to have that verified for us.'
There was no fan reaction when the official knockout punch came for the defending NL Central champions - Cincinnati's 3-2 win over Houston - with one out in the sixth and Pittsburgh leading 4-2. Instead of updates, fans saw restaurant ads, and house ads trumpeting the franchise topping 3 million in attendance and pushing merchandise for the team store.
``Obviously we've known our chances have been slim the last 4-5 days or so,' said infielder Aaron Miles, who worked the ninth in his fifth career appearance as a pitcher. ``It's been on our minids every day. It keeps you hungry for the offseason.'
Even after getting a rare road victory, the Pirates clinched the worst record in the majors. Garrett Jones homered on a three-hit night and drove in three runs and Brian Burres pitched effectively into the sixth inning for Pittsburgh.
Albert Pujols became the first Cardinal to walk 100 times in three consecutive seasons. Rookie Matt Pagnozzi homered off the facade in the second deck in left in the second for the Cardinals, who clinched at least a .500 record on Monday following a second-half swoon.
St. Louis was 12-6 against the Reds, but is 26-33 against the rest of the division and 46-50 against teams with a losing record. So they needed to win their final six games and have the Reds lose six in a row to force a playoff.
``There's a reality and there's finality, right?' La Russa said. ``As long as it's possible you might as well keep a faint hope.
``Our greatest fans, how do they feel right now? That's how we feel.'
Infielder Aaron Miles made his fifth career appearance as pitcher for St. Louis, working the ninth. The radar gun had the right-hander topping out at 71 mph but he allowed only a one-out double to Neil Walker.
``I'm sure the fans get a laugh out of it and they enjoy it somewhat for what it is,' Miles said. ``That's why the position player is pitching, the game's out of control.'
Pinch-hitter John Bowker added a three-run double in the eighth off Mike MacDougal for the Pirates, who snapped a five-game road losing streak and won for the eighth time in 11 games overall. They are 16-61 on the road, by far the worst record in the majors.
Jones' team-leading 21st homer, and first since Aug. 31 to end an 82 at-bat drought, was the only hit in a three-run first inning against Jeff Suppan (2-8). He added an RBI single in the sixth off Trever Miller for a 4-2 lead and later doubled in the eighth.
Entering the game, Jones was a .196 hitter this season against St. Louis.
Burres (4-4) gave up one earned run in 5 2-3 innings to win an immediate rematch against Suppan, after lasting only 2 1-3 innings in a 9-2 loss in Pittsburgh on Sept. 23. He had no strikeouts Tuesday and has only one over eight innings in the St. Louis matchups.
``The last time I got into a little bit of trouble and couldn't get out of it,' Burres said. ``Honestly, I didn't want to change too much. I just wanted to get out there and make better pitches.'
Suppan allowed three earned runs in 5 1-3 innings, losing for only the fourth time in 20 career decisions against the Pirates. Both of his victories this season have come against Pittsburgh.
``He's done pretty good the last few starts against us,' said Jones, who hit a changeup for his homer. ``It was nice to get a few runs off him and get him out of there early.'
NOTES: McCutcheon is 14 for 33 his last 11 games. ... Pujols has drawn 319 walks the last three seasons. He leads the majors with 38 intentional walks this year. ... The Pirates have an extra-base hit in 40 straight games and have homered in nine of their last 13 games. ... In four of Miles' five pitching appearances he hasn't allowed a run.
The Associated Press News Service
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