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Updated: Wednesday, September 24, 2003 2:04 AM EDT
St. Louis Cardinals
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Stats: Batting | Pitching
5 10 0
Milwaukee Brewers
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Stats: Batting | Pitching
1 3 0
W Williams (17-9)
L Sheets (11-13)
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MILWAUKEE (Ticker) -- Woody Williams got himself back on track a little too late.

Williams allowed just one run in seven innings and Mike Matheny and Scott Rolen each drove in two runs as the St. Louis Cardinals rolled to a 5-1 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers .

After winning 14 of his first 17 decisions this season, Williams lost five in a row as the Cardinals fell out of the National League Central Division race. He has bounced back to win three of his last four starts, but St. Louis nearly has been eliminated from postseason contention.

"I'm just glad to be pitching a little better," he said. "If I was was pitching like this a month ago, we would be in much better shape."

The Cardinals are 3 1/2 games behind the first-place Chicago Cubs with four games remaining.

"We've got to win all of our games," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. "We're just trying to give ourselves the best chance."

"Whether you're in a pennant race or not, you still have your pride and they pay you to come out and do your job," Williams said. "If we get eliminated tomorrow, you still have to pitch for the pride of the Cardinals."

Williams (17-9) defeated the Brewers for the third time this season and improved to 9-4 in 22 career appearances against them. He allowed just three hits while striking out six en route to his career-high 17th victory.

"He's been masterful against everybody," La Russa said. "He's had a great year, he's pitched this way almost the whole year. We wouldn't even be within a smell of the lead without him. He's meant a great deal to our ball club."

"He pitched another good game against us," Brewers manager Ned Yost said. "He had excellent command and he changed speeds very well."

The Cardinals took the lead for good with three runs in the second inning. Eduardo Perez hit a sacrifice fly with runners at the corners before Matheny hit his eighth homer - tying the career high he set with Milwaukee in 1996.

Rolen added a two-run double in the third and St. Louis held on for its sixth win in eight games.

"The reality is, we're not out of it," Rolen said. "We are playing for pride, but we're still playing for a chance to make it to the postseason."

Milwaukee starter Ben Sheets (11-13) failed in an attempt for his career-high 12th win, yielding five runs and nine hits in six innings.

Brady Clark hit a solo homer off Williams with two outs in the first inning, but Sheets did not hold the lead. Rolen doubled with one out in the second and Renteria singled to put runners at the corners.

Rolen scored the tying run on Perez's fly ball to left field and Matheny, who hit just five homers in his first 119 games this season, followed with his third blast in September.

Orlando Palmeiro and Albert Pujols hit consecutive singles off Sheets with one out in the third. Pujols was erased when J.D. Drew bounced into a forceout, but Rolen doubled to the wall in left field to make it 5-1.

"Unfortunately, those two innings were terrible to make it a bad ball game," Sheets said. "I found the heart of the plate a lot, I pitched terrible. I put us out of the ballgame early. You can't do that against a good team."

Sheets settled down thereafter, retiring the next six batters he faced and allowing only two more hits before leaving.

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