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Milwaukee at St. Louis

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Cards back into playoffs, NL Central title in loss to Brewers

CBS SportsLine.com wire reports
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ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Cardinals won another NL Central title with a team still running in reverse.

There was no sign of distress in a raucous clubhouse, though, with champagne spraying in every direction after the Cardinals backed into their third straight division championship and averted perhaps the biggest September collapse in major league history.

The Cardinals lost nine of their last 12, nearly squandering a seven-game lead. But they finally clinched a playoff berth Sunday in the fifth inning of a 5-3 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers when Houston was eliminated with a 3-1 defeat at Atlanta.

When the Cardinals got back to their clubhouse, all their struggles were forgotten and players whooped it up.

"Once we got in here and started popping the corks, it reminds me of old times," said Scott Spiezio, who won a World Series with the Angels in 2002. "I told the young guys to practice stuff so we can do it again and next time look a little better."

The Cardinals have no illusions about being a team to be feared in October. But they didn't care. They're in the postseason, taking on San Diego starting Tuesday at Petco Park.

"All right, we'll be the underdogs all day long," pitcher Chris Carpenter said. "In this situation anything can happen. We saw it with Houston last year."

St. Louis reached the postseason for the sixth time in seven years. The final out of Houston's game came with one out in the bottom of the fifth and the Brewers leading 5-0, prompting a huge ovation from a sellout crowd at Busch Stadium.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa handed out congratulatory hugs in the dugout.

"I don't think anybody on this club wanted to be associated with mugging that lead," La Russa said. "That's one of those historic things that you'll never forget.

"We wanted to some way, somehow, get into the playoffs, and we did it."

La Russa gambled in the regular-season finale by holding back Carpenter for a possible playoff opener, reasoning that his struggling team needed two starts by the 15-game winner in the first round to have a chance against either the Dodgers or Padres in a series that starts Tuesday on the road.

The Brewers knocked out replacement starter Anthony Reyes in the first inning. La Russa believes the experience will help the rookie in the future, and he's certain it will help his team right now.

"Now, we've got a legitimate shot," La Russa said. "Otherwise we'd have gone in with one or two hands tied behind ourselves.

"This guy is as good of a pitcher that there is in major league baseball and we're only going to use him one time in the middle of the series?"

The 24-year-old Reyes (5-8), pitching on three days' rest, retired only two hitters and gave up homers to Prince Fielder and Geoff Jenkins in a four-run first. Carpenter would have pitched Monday in the makeup of a rainout against the Giants if the Astros had won, but now he'll be rested for the playoff opener and could pitch on regular rest in Game 4.

The Cardinals had a seven-game lead with 12 to play, and the cushion had dwindled to a half-game before a 10-5 victory over the Brewers on Friday coupled with a Houston loss. They finished 83-78, their worst record since going 75-86 in 1999 and the worst record by an NL Central champion. The Padres won the NL West at 82-80 last year.

After the final out, Cardinals players celebrated on the field, exchanging hugs on the field beneath confetti shot into the air by the team mascot, Fredbird. Most fans stood and applauded, giving the Cardinals the biggest cheer when they left the field.

The Cardinals reduced their magic number to one on Spiezio's pinch-hit, bases-loaded triple in the eighth off Francisco Cordero in a 3-2 victory on Saturday, and got a go-ahead, three-run homer from Albert Pujols that beat the Padres on Wednesday.

There were no such heroics on Sunday against rookie right-hander Carlos Villanueva (2-2), who held them to five hits in 8 1/3 innings despite pitching with a bruise on the base of his right hand after he tried to stop a line drive hit by the first batter he faced.

"We're not going to roll over and hand anything to anybody," Villanueva said. "I heard somebody say, 'Oh, they're throwing a rookie today.' It didn't bother me."

Chris Duncan and Pujols hit consecutive solo homers in the ninth for the Cardinals. It was the 22nd for Duncan in his rookie year. Pujols finished the season with 49.

Cordero got the final two outs, striking out Juan Encarnacion after allowing a solo shot by Spiezio.

The Cardinals finished 83-78 after consecutive 100-win seasons, including the franchise's first World Series appearance in 17 years in 2004 before being swept by the Red Sox.

Fielder's two-run shot in the first gave him 28 homers for the season, two more than the previous high for a rookie and son of a major leaguer. He homered in two of the last three games.

Jenkins hit his 17th homer and Corey Hart tripled and scored on David Bell's single to chase Reyes after only seven hitters. Mike Rivera homered in the fourth to make it 5-0.

The Brewers split the season-ending four-game series with the Cardinals and finished 27-54 on the road, the second-worst mark in the NL.

"We just wanted to come in here, stand up and play a good series," manager Ned Yost said. "I felt like there was a lot riding on this series, and we did OK."

Notes

  • The Cardinals sold out the entire first season at new Busch Stadium with an attendance of 3,407,104, the second-largest in team history.
 
Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
 
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Despite a 5-3 loss to the Brewers, the Cardinals celebrate their NL Central Division title.  (AP)
Despite a 5-3 loss to the Brewers, the Cardinals celebrate their NL Central Division title. (AP)

Players of the Game
Milwaukee

P. Fielder
AB 4
R 1
H 2
HR 1
RBI 2
Milwaukee

C. Villanueva
IP 8.1
H 5
ER 2
BB 1
K 4
 
Milwaukee Brewers
Anthony Gwynn, CF5110011
Tony Graffanino, 2B5000022
Prince Fielder, 1B4122000
Bill Hall, SS4000021
Geoff Jenkins, RF3131100
    Drew Anderson, PR-RF0000000
Corey Hart, LF4110024
David Bell, 3B4011011
Mike Rivera, C4121001
Carlos Villanueva, P4000041
    Francisco Cordero, P0000000
Totals37510511211 
Batting
3B - Corey Hart (, An. Reyes)
HR - Prince Fielder (, An. Reyes), Geoff Jenkins (, An. Reyes), Mike Rivera (, Sosa)
RBI - Prince Fielder 2 (), Geoff Jenkins (), David Bell (), Mike Rivera ()
2-OUT RBI - Geoff Jenkins (), David Bell ()
SB - Anthony Gwynn (, 2nd base off An. Reyes/Molina)
Team LOB - 6
Fielding
DP - Bell-Graffanino-Fielder
E - Corey Hart (, Misplayed grounder)
Milwaukee Brewers
Carlos Villanueva (W,-) 8.1522142
Francisco Cordero 0.2111021
Pitches-Strikes - Carlos Villanueva 103-66, Francisco Cordero 15-9
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Carlos Villanueva 8-12
Batters Faced - Carlos Villanueva 30, Francisco Cordero 3
St. Louis Cardinals
Aaron Miles, SS-2B4000000
Chris Duncan, RF4111030
Albert Pujols, 1B4121000
Preston Wilson, LF4010011
Scott Rolen, 3B1000110
    Scott Spiezio, 3B2111000
Juan Encarnacion, CF4000011
Ronnie Belliard, 2B2000002
    John Nelson, SS1000000
Yadier Molina, C2000002
    Mike Rose, C1010000
Anthony Reyes, P0000000
    Brad Thompson, P0000000
   a- Jose Vizcaino, PH1000000
    Jorge Sosa, P0000000
   b- Skip Schumaker, PH1000000
    Chris Narveson, P0000000
    Josh Kinney, P0000000
   c- John Rodriguez, PH1000001
    Braden Looper, P0000000
Totals32363167 
a-lined out for Thompson in the 3rd
b-lined out for Sosa in the 6th
c-flied out for Kinney in the 8th
Batting
HR - Chris Duncan (, Villanueva), Albert Pujols (, Villanueva), Scott Spiezio (, Cordero)
RBI - Chris Duncan (), Albert Pujols (), Scott Spiezio ()
2-OUT RBI - Scott Spiezio ()
Team LOB - 3
St. Louis Cardinals
Anthony Reyes (L,-) 0.2544022
Brad Thompson 2.1000120
Jorge Sosa 3311031
Chris Narveson 1000010
Josh Kinney 1100020
Braden Looper 1100020
Pitches-Strikes - Anthony Reyes 26-18, Brad Thompson 23-17, Jorge Sosa 52-30, Chris Narveson 12-7, Josh Kinney 14-12, Braden Looper 13-8
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Brad Thompson 4-1, Jorge Sosa 3-3, Chris Narveson 1-1, Josh Kinney 1-0, Braden Looper 1-0
Batters Faced - Anthony Reyes 7, Brad Thompson 8, Jorge Sosa 12, Chris Narveson 3, Josh Kinney 4, Braden Looper 4
Game Information
Attendance - 44133
Game Time - 2:23
Temperature - 83
Umpires - Home - Derryl Cousins, First Base - Jeff Nelson, Second Base - Field Culbreth, Third Base - Tim Timmons