Cardinals claim a third straight NL Central title

Reuters

Fri, Oct 02, 2015 - Page 20

The St Louis Cardinals waited until after their game against the Pittsburgh Pirates ended on Wednesday before celebrating their third successive National League Central title, though they could have started after the third inning.

The Cardinals wrapped up the division title with an 11-1 rout of the Pittsburgh Pirates as Jason Heyward had a third-inning grand slam among his three hits.

Starter Tyler Lyons also pitched seven scoreless innings in the second game of a double-header. The Pirates had won the first game 8-2, which initially delayed the celebrations.

The Cardinals (100-59) reached 100 victories for the first time since 2005 on their way to a club-record fifth straight post-season appearance.

“I was the guy who got the big hit, but anybody on this team could be the hero,” Heyward said. “We have guys up and down the lineup who can hit and a great pitching staff. That’s why we’re sitting here on Sept. 30 with 100 wins and a division title. We have a great team.”

The Pirates (96-63) are assured of finishing second to the Cardinals for the third consecutive year, despite having the second-most wins in the major leagues.

“We really had to earn this,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “I knew it was going to come down to the wire because we were battling two great teams in our division in the Pirates and the [Chicago] Cubs. It was a battle all year and it’s an accomplishment to come out on top.”

The Pirates play in the one-game National League wild-card playoff for a third successive year, meeting the Cubs on Wednesday next week.

Pittsburgh hold a 2.5 game lead for the first wild card and home-field advantage with four days left in the regular season.

The Cardinals are due to meet the wild-card playoff winners in the best-of-five National League Division Series, which is due to start on Friday next week in St Louis.

“We’ve still got to stay focused on right where we are,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “The ultimate goal hasn’t changed, to win a world championship. We’re just going to have to go about it in a different method now.”

Heyward’s second career grand slam came in the third inning and gave the Cardinals a commanding 6-0 lead.

Lyons (3-1) allowed just four hits, did not walk a batter and had five strikeouts after replacing Carlos Martinez, who was placed on the 60-day disabled list before the first game with a strained right shoulder.

“I wasn’t nervous,” Lyons said. “I looked at this as a great opportunity to pitch the clincher of what is arguably the best division in baseball.”