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Cards sign closer

ST. LOUIS, Dec. 10 (UPI) -- The St.Louis Cardinals confirmed the signing Monday of righthanded reliever Jason Isringhausen to a four-year contract, giving them the much-needed closer they had sought.

Financial terms were not disclosed but the former Oakland Athletics closer reportedly will earn $7 million per season.

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Isringhausen had 67 saves for the A's over the last two seasons and fills a need the team has had for the better part of the last four seasons.

A resident of Godfrey, Ill.,Isringhausen chose playing closer to home for less money than he could have received from the Texas Rangers. Texas owner Tom Hicks told the Dallas Morning News that Isringhausen turned down a four-year, $30 million offer.

"It was a tough decision but it came down to wanting to remain close to home and playing for a winner," Isringhausen said at Monday's news conference.

After being plagued by injuries as a starter with the New York Mets, Isringhausen developed into one f the game's premier closers midway through the 1999 season.

The signing gives the Cardinals depth in a bullpen that includes lefthander Steve Kline and righthander Dave Veres but has been without a quality closer since Dennis Eckersley's retirement in 1997.

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A prized prospect with the Mets in the 1990s, Isringhausen went 9-2 with a 2.81 ERA in 14 starts as a rookie in 1995, but he was 6-14 with a 4.77 ERA in 1996 and made just 19 appearances from

1997-99, sitting out all of 1998 following elbow surgery.

The Mets sent "Izzy" to the Athletics with Greg McMichael for Billy Taylor in July 1999 in a lopsided deal involving three righthanders. Isringhausen is the only one still in the major

leagues.

Isringhausen was given a chance to close late in 1999, and he responded, recording eight saves and a 2.13 ERA in 20 games. He added 33 saves in 2000 and 34 last year, helping Oakland to a pair of postseason appearances.

Veres led the Cardinals with 15 saves in 2001 before Kline took over the closer role late in the season. Kline, one of the best lefthanded relievers in baseball, was 3-3 with nine saves and a 1.80 ERA in 89 appearances but is best suited as a setup man.

The addition of Isringhausen is the final piece of the puzzle for the Cards, who won the National League wild card in 2001 before losing to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a five-game Division Series.

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St. Louis has one of the best rotations in the NL with Matt Morris, Darryl Kile, Bud Smith and Woody Williams, and an offense that was fourth in the league in runs scored last year.

Isringhausen's defection from the Bay Area could be the first of a series of losses for Oakland, which could lose slugger Jason Giambi and leadoff hitter Johnny Damon to free agency.

The A's began preparing for the eventual departure of the trio by acquiring closer Billy Koch from the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday.

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