Fri, Sep 30, 2011 - Page 20 News List

Cardinals come back to claim wild card

AFP, HOUSTON, Texas

NATIONAL LEAGUE

The St Louis Cardinals completed a stunning comeback on Wednesday as they claimed the National League wild-card playoff berth with an 8-0 victory over Houston as Atlanta lost.

The Cardinals trailed the Braves by 10.5 games on Aug. 25, but won 23 of their last 31 games to close the gap.

Their playoff berth became official when the Braves fell to Philadelphia 4-3 in 13 innings on the last day of the regular season.

St Louis are scheduled to open the playoffs tomorrow at National League East division champions Philadelphia.

In the other first-round National League series, Arizona will face Milwaukee.

In Houston, St Louis pitcher Chris Carpenter struck out 11 and allowed two hits in his 15th career complete-game shutout.

“We had nothing to lose. We were already out of it,” Carpenter said. “People were telling us we were done. We decided to go out and play, and not embarrass ourselves and do what we can. We played ourselves back into it.”

After Carpenter fielded J.D. Martinez’s ground ball for the final out, St Louis players streamed onto the field, but the celebration was short-lived as they headed toward the clubhouse to watch the end of the game in Atlanta on television.

“It was exciting, there’s no doubt about it,” Carpenter said. “The way these guys have played the past month and a half has been amazing, every single night grinding, playing their butts off, not giving up.We continued to give ourselves an -opportunity and now we are here.”

St Louis and Atlanta went into the last day of the regular season with matching 89-72 records.

Although their game started an hour later than Atlanta’s, the Cardinals did their part first, taking control as they seized a 5-0 first-inning lead.

However, the Cardinals did not get a chance to open the champagne until the Braves’ collapse was complete.

Atlanta closing pitcher Craig Kimbrel surrendered the tying run in the ninth inning and Hunter Pence delivered a two-out, run-scoring single in the 13th to give the Phillies the 4-3 victory that ended Atlanta’s season.

“It was tough to be so close and then have the feeling like it was falling out of your hands, and that’s the feeling I have now,” Kimbrel said.

Atlanta, who led the wild-card race by 8.5 games on Sept. 6, lost their last five games of the regular season and were 9-18 this month.

“This is tough,” Braves catcher Brian McCann said. “This is one of the worst feelings I’ve ever had coming off a baseball field.”

National League Central division champions Milwaukee secured home-field advantage in the first round with a 7-3 victory over Pittsburgh.

The Brewers will host National League West champions Arizona in their series opener tomorrow.

Arizona, who locked up the division title last week, finished the regular season with a 7-5 defeat to the Los Angeles Dodgers, whose Matt Kemp hit a two-run home run to become the first Dodgers player in 70 years to lead the National League in home runs and RBIs.

Kemp hit his 39th homer in the seventh inning to pass -Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder for the National League lead and finished with 126 RBIs, second-most in Dodgers history to Tommy Davis’ 153 in 1962.

Kemp was a rare bright spot for the Dodgers, who were virtually out of contention in their division by the mid-season All-Star break and endured the distraction of owner Frank McCourt’s financial and divorce difficulties throughout the campaign.

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