Jack Flaherty, Paul Goldschmidt and the St Louis Cardinals quickly drained any drama from a final-day playoff chase.
They were totally fine with that.
The Cardinals on Sunday clinched the National League (NL) Central in their final game of the regular season, using Flaherty’s arm and Goldschmidt’s bat to win their first division title since 2015 with a 9-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs.
Photo: Jeff Curry-USA Today
“This is what it’s all about,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “I love to see the guys enjoy the fruits of their labor — it’s something special.”
The Cardinals built an 8-0 lead in the third inning and coasted to the best-of-five National League Division Series, starting in Atlanta, Georgia, on Thursday.
St Louis started the day with a one-game lead over Milwaukee. The second-placed Brewers play at Washington in the National League wild-card game today, with the winner going on to play Los Angeles.
The Cubs lost on Joe Maddon’s last day as their manager. It was announced before the game that he would not return next year.
Maddon remained calm after the game as he received congratulations from his players.
“I’ve been able to hold it together pretty well,” Maddon said. “It was very cool.”
The 23-year-old Flaherty tossed seven impressive innings. He gave up two hits, stuck and six, and walked one in an efficient 69-pitch stint.
“He continues to be amazing,” Goldschmidt said.
Flaherty (11-8) stood in the on deck circle waiting to hit in the bottom of the seventh. After Harrison Bader was retired, Shildt called Flaherty back to the dugout to remove him for a pinch-hitter.
The crowd at Busch Stadium went crazy and would not stop yelling until Flaherty emerged from the dugout to tip his cap.
“I was in shock, not sure what to do,” Flaherty said. “That’s for hitters. I wasn’t expecting anything like that.”
Flaherty has allowed just seven runs over his past 12 starts. He has an 0.91 ERA after the All-Star break.
St Louis are back in the post-season after a three-year absence. The Cardinals have won or shared 12 division titles since the current format was developed in 1995.
They (91-71) finished three games better than last season (88-74).
Goldschmidt, who had three hits, added his team-high 34th home run.
“For just this reason,” Goldschmidt said. “My fondest memories in baseball are the celebrations. To accomplish this goal as a team, it’s great, but we have to keep going.”
Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler also homered for St Louis.
Elsewhere, the Rockies edged the Brewers 4-3 in 13 innings, the Rangers routed the Yankees 6-1, the Red Sox outlasted the Orioles 5-4, the Dodgers thrashed the Giants 9-0, the Mets mastered the Braves 7-6 in 11 innings, the Reds beat the Pirates 3-1 and the Marlins defeated the Phillies 4-3.
The Nationals crushed the Indians 8-2, the Astros overcame the Angels 8-5, the Blue Jays beat the Rays 8-3, the Mariners mastered the Athletics 3-1, the White Sox tamed the Tigers 5-3, the Diamondbacks pipped the Padres 1-0 and the Royals edged the Twins 5-4.
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