The St. Louis Cardinals finally celebrated their NL Central championship.
With the outright division title secured, the Cardinals meet the Milwaukee Brewers in the second game of their four-game series at Miller Park.
Manager Tony La Russa allowed the Cardinals to celebrate their division championship after a 7-4 win in Monday’s series opener. They officially clinched it Saturday, but La Russa had refused to acknowledge it.
With a 7-0 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Saturday, the Cardinals were guaranteed to finish at worst in a first-place tie with the Chicago Cubs. Since they won the season series 11-8, the Cardinals would be awarded the NL Central title over the Cubs.
That was not good enough for La Russa, who demanded more than a first-place tie. Following a 3-2 loss to Arizona on Sunday, the manager stormed out of his postgame press conference when asked why he was delaying the traditional champagne celebration.
There was no further delay Monday. The Cardinals packed up more than 20 cases of champagne and boxes of championship hats and had the clubhouse attendants drive it all up to Miller Park in two pickup trucks.
“The only thing that would have made this thing better was to do it yesterday at Busch Stadium,” said a drenched La Russa, standing in front of lockers shielded by floor-to-ceiling plastic. “That’s why we were disappointed, because we cared. But this is a great moment.”
Albert Pujols’ go-ahead single keyed a three-run ninth inning to lead the Cardinals to their fourth win in five games.
“This is the best team we’ve had in the last four years,” Pujols said. “We have guys who can play the game. That’s what this is all about. Now we have to get to the World Series.”
The Brewers have lost seven straight—their second-longest skid of the season. They dropped 12 in a row from Aug. 18-30.
Milwaukee trails Pittsburgh and Cincinnati by 5 1/2 games for fourth place in the NL Central.