ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak spoke with the media for a couple of minutes before Tuesday's game, touching specifically upon the status of contract-extension talks with free-agents-to-be Lance Berkman and Rafael Furcal.

"Slow, at this point," he said. "We're dealing with some other things, and frankly, we want to just concentrate on the end of the season."

Berkman told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in a story for Tuesday's edition, that contract-negotiation talks were ongoing and reiterated his desire to return to the Cardinals in 2012.

"It's always about money," Berkman said. "No matter what people say, it's always about the money."

"Well, it's a honest assessment, and you have to admire that," Mozeliak said.

The 35-year-old Berkman has been one of the top hitters in baseball this season. Entering Tuesday's action, he was hitting .299 with 31 home runs, 89 RBIs, 82 runs scored and a .412 on-base percentage.

In his 44 games with the Cardinals, Furcal hit .262 with 10 doubles, six home runs, 14 RBIs, 26 runs scored, four stolen bases and a .326 on-base percentage.

"They know I don't even think about it," Furcal said of a new contract. "I'm concentrating just on winning the pennant race. We're fighting for a place in the playoffs. This is my main thing. We've got nine games left. This is my main thing, try to win every game we play. I don't think about my contract next year."

Cards hope to have Holliday back by weekend

ST. LOUIS -- The return date for Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday is still up in the air, but there is optimism that he is closer to returning from an injured right hand than the team previously thought.

"I would say over the last 48 hours we are a little more optimistic, but still not to the point where we know when he is going to be in a game," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said prior to Tuesday's game.

Holliday developed inflammation of a tendon in his right middle finger during a game in Pittsburgh last Tuesday. He felt the pain in his hand while in the on-deck circle late in a 6-4 victory.

Mozeliak said he did not specifically know how the injury occurred, but said there has been a reduction in the swelling.

"I think the easiest way to think about him right now is it is sort of a day-to-day progression," Mozeliak said. "So he's been cleared to swing a bat off a tee, and then tomorrow hopefully he can do a little more, and so on. So I think as far as having him available in the next couple of days, I think that is unlikely, but we're hopeful for the weekend."

The Cardinals would love to get their left fielder back in the lineup as soon as possible. In 120 games this season, Holliday is hitting .295 with 35 doubles, 22 home runs, 74 RBIs, 82 runs scored, a .388 on-base percentage and a .528 slugging percentage.

"He was going to try some stuff today, with a pad, but we don't expect him to be ready this series," said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. "We'd be surprised if he was."

Izzy's return to St. Louis won't see live action

ST. LOUIS -- Jason Isringhausen stepped into his car Tuesday afternoon and made the relatively quick drive to Busch Stadium, along the same route he had traversed more than 400 times before.

"It's just highway all the way here," Isringhausen said after stepping foot into the visitor's clubhouse for the first time in his life.

Isringhausen's return to St. Louis, where he won a World Series ring in 2006 and spent nearly half of his 15-year big league career, was not as memorable as he might have hoped. Unable to pitch due to the residual effects of a herniated disc in his lower back, Isringhausen planned only to throw a bullpen session this week in the hopes of finishing out the season back in New York.

But more than a month removed from his 300th save, in the city where he recorded 103 of them, Isringhausen did have a chance to reflect back on his renaissance season with the Mets.

"I didn't know what was going to happen," he said. "I just wanted to try out this spring and everything worked out."

Everything worked out better than even Isringhausen could have imagined, coming off more than year of rehabilitation and fruitless efforts to make it back to the Major Leagues. His story, at age 39, is by this point well-documented: the Mets took a chance on their former blue-chip starting-pitching prospect, Isringhausen made the team and even rediscovered a bit of his old glory.

"I just felt like I had unfinished business," Isringhausen said. "I wanted to go out on my terms, so to speak, and injuries weren't letting me do that."

Now, assuming he remains healthy enough to pitch next season, Isringhausen plans to return to the big leagues -- if not in New York, then elsewhere. His 4.05 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings are evidence enough that he can still pitch.

His aspirations remain, as well.

"I have the desire to stay home with the girls, but then I have that desire for competition," Isringhausen said, referring to his two young daughters. "We can do all the hunting and softball-playing we want, but it's just not the same as going out and facing the great hitters of the game.

Tidbits

• When he first made out the lineup on Tuesday afternoon, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa left the positions blank for outfielders Lance Berkman and Allen Craig.

"I was going to talk to Lance," La Russa said. "He played some left field there at Philadelphia, so it's his call. He picks left or right. He's played more right here. I made the lineup early, and he wasn't here. He picks it, and Allen goes to the other place."

Berkman started in right field for the opener against the Mets. Craig was in left, batting second.

• In addition to Jason Isringhausen, former Cardinals pitcher Miguel Batista made his return to St. Louis in a Mets uniform.

Batista pitched earlier this season with St. Louis before being released. He went 3-2 with a 4.60 ERA in 26 games, including one start. In six games for the Mets, he is 1-0 with a 3.54 ERA over 20 1/3 innings.

• This three-game series serves as a homecoming for Mets catcher Josh Thole, who grew up in Breese, Ill., about 40 miles east of Busch Stadium.

• The Cardinals will have team their photo day on Wednesday.