It took about two hours yesterday for the NL Central champion Cardinals to sell out all of their playoff games leading up to the World Series. Tickets for the division series and the NLCS went on sale at 9 a.m. and were sold out by around 11.

For the first time, playoff tickets were not sold at the Busch Stadium ticket office or at other ticket outlets; they were sold online through the Cardinals' Web site and by phone. The team said problems with long lines and new stadium construction prompted the change. The new Busch Stadium is being built next to the existing ballpark, which will be demolished at the end of the season. It wasn't immediately clear how many tickets were sold.

* SMALL BALL: Baseball had a brownout this year, with home runs dropping to their lowest level in eight years. Is there a link between the power outage and tougher steroid testing?

"A lot of guys who were hitting them haven't been hitting them," Florida's Lenny Harris said. "I think the drug policy had a lot to do with it. It changed a lot of guys' diets. There are too many people having off years."

An average of 2.06 homers per game were hit through Sunday, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, down 8.5 percent from last season's final average of 2.25. The figure hasn't been so low since it dipped to 2.05 in 1997.

"I think it's cyclical," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "It's very hard to determine what variables are at work here."

Some players point to the first year of steroid testing with penalties for first offenders. Nine players have been suspended for 10 days each for violating the major league policy, including Rafael Palmeiro.

Gene Orza, the chief operating officer of the players' association, said linking steroid testing to the home-run average is too simplistic and pointed out that this year's level is only slightly lower than the 2.09 average for 2002. "The numbers are essentially the same as they were three years ago, before there was testing, and in those three years players have been tested a massive number of times," he said.

-- From News Services