Greg Maddux closed a chapter in a long and storied rivalry Wednesday night and earned the right to return for his 20th season in the major leagues.

Maddux led the Cubs to a 2-1 victory over St. Louis in their final game in Busch Stadium, and surpassed 400 combined innings in 2004 and 2005 to vest a $9 million player option for 2006.

"If they want me, I'd love to come back," Maddux said.

It's up to Maddux.

"I'm not going to play because I can," he said. "I'm going to play because I deserve it."

Maddux, who improved to 12-11, threw shutout ball for 52/3 innings before being lifted in the sixth after 92 pitches with two outs and a runner on second. A ball that hit off Maddux's right big toe was part of the reason for his exit. He also conceded he was cooked.

Michael Wuertz, Roberto Novoa and Ryan Dempster finished it off, with Dempster posting his 24th save in his last 25 opportunities, stranding the tying run on third with a game-ending strikeout of Abraham Nunez.

"Feels good to win the last game the Cubs are playing in this stadium," manager Dusty Baker said. "That's how you want to end the game, with Albert Pujols on deck."

The Cubs wound up with a 5-3 record in the final season at Busch, posting a winning record for the first time in St. Louis since they went 4-2 in 1995.

They're 8-4 against the Cards and have won all three series against them since the All-Star break. No other team has beaten St. Louis in a series since the break.

Staked to a 2-0 lead on second-inning RBIs by Neifi Perez and Matt Murton off Mark Mulder, Maddux showed his poise in the third after the Cardinals loaded the bases with no one out on three consecutive singles. First he induced Jim Edmonds to ground into a 1-2-3 double play on an 0-1 pitch, then he struck out John Mabry to escape the jam.

Is Maddux the epitome of an "old-school" pitcher?

"Well, he's old," Baker said. ""… A lot of times, guys get older and they're so financially secure and they have records and stuff, you could easily lose a little competitive desire. But he hasn't lost any."

Maddux doesn't spend much time getting warm and fuzzy after victories, but on this occasion he reflected on winning the Cubs' final game in the 39-year history of Busch.

"I have some very good [memories]," he said. "I was thinking about that the last two days. We had some great playoff series against the Cardinals (when he was with Atlanta). One year we were down 3-1 and came back and beat them.

"I had a game here against Mike Morgan that was 1-0, and I think it took less than two hours. We went to the same high school, so that was a special game for me, facing him, and it happened to be here.

"Facing Mark McGwire definitely comes to mind, and facing the Cardinals teams back when they had all that speed—Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, and all those guys. Yeah, you think about that park. This is where it all happened.

"I took some time to reflect back on my experiences here because they're going to blow it up, huh?"

psullivan@tribune.com