Cardinals 7, Diamondbacks 0

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ST. LOUIS (AP)—The St. Louis Cardinals became the first major league team to clinch a playoff spot this season, winning the NL Central for the third time in five seasons.

A few hours after the Cardinals beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 7-0 Saturday, the playoff berth was clinched when San Francisco lost to San Diego 5-1. When the Chicago Cubs lost 6-5 at Cincinnati, the division title was assured.

St. Louis (97-50) can only be matched in the division by the Cubs (81-65), who lost the season series with the Cardinals 11-8. In addition, the Giants’ loss meant that the second-place teams in both the NL East and NL West will have 96 wins or fewer.

Because of that, if the Cardinals and the Cubs were to finish in a tie, both would be guaranteed playoff berths. Under baseball’s rules, St. Louis would be awarded the division title because it won the season series.

As for the game, Chris Carpenter felt a twinge in his biceps and called it a day after pitching just three-plus innings. He and the Cardinals thought a serious injury probably was avoided by the decision.

The 15-game winner left in the fourth inning with a strained right biceps, but four relievers helped complete a six-hitter. Carpenter is expected to miss only one start, partly because he didn’t try to gut it out.

“It’s against normal pitching, they keep going,” catcher Mike Matheny said. “Fortunately, I think he stopped in time to give us a chance to let the trainers get him right. Hopefully, that’ll be the case.”

Carpenter has become the Cardinals’ ace after missing all of last season following a pair of elbow operations. He has pitched seven or more innings in 16 starts.

“As the year’s gone on, I’ve gotten stronger, my velocity has increased, my location is getting better and my recovery time between starts is getting better,” Carpenter said. “Everything was turning into this magical thing and this is an unfortunate little bump.

“But I’ve been through a lot more bumps than these, so I’m not concerned about this.”

Carpenter said he was injured making a pitch on a cut fastball to Shea Hillenbrand, who singled with one out in the fourth. There were no early warning signs during warmups or earlier in the game.

“I felt great in the pen, I felt great throwing, everything was good,” Carpenter said. “But I’ve been through too much to risk it.”

Dan Haren, one of the team’s top pitching prospects, relieved Carpenter on Saturday and likely will take Carpenter’s next turn in the rotation.

“I’m good to go,” Haren said. “I feel real fresh right now.”

The light-hitting Matheny got his fifth RBI in five games for the Cardinals, who won for only the fifth time in 11 games.

Haren (3-2) allowed two hits in 2 1-3 innings to help the Cardinals improve to 5-0 against the lowly Diamondbacks.

Ray King walked the only batter he faced, Cal Eldred allowed one hit in two innings and Al Reyes pitched the ninth for the Cardinals’ 12th shutout of the season.

Casey Fossum (4-14) lasted six innings and allowed four runs—three earned — and six hits for Arizona, which has lost nine in a row on the road.

“I did the best I could and kept the game close,” Fossum said. “We just couldn’t manufacture anything offensively.”

Arizona’s best chance to score came in the third when Juan Brito doubled and pitcher Casey Fossum singled with one out, but Carpenter got Luis Terrero to ground out and Alex Cintron to fly out to end it.

“For the last three months it’s been the same: We don’t have a whole lot of power in the lineup,” manager Al Pedrique said. “That’s why when we play a team like St. Louis we have to work the count and make the routine plays and stay away from long innings.”

Matheny had an RBI single in the second for the Cardinals’ first run and also doubled in the seventh. He’s 5-for-14 in four games and has 45 RBIs, two shy of his career best in 2000 and 2003.

“I love the game behind the plate,” Matheny said. “It’s a whole separate game when it comes to hitting and it’s nice to contribute, especially a hit that puts a run across the board and takes the pressure off our pitching staff.”

Albert Pujols and Reggie Sanders had run-scoring singles in the third, Edgar Renteria had an RBI infield hit in the sixth and So Taguchi’s bases-loaded squeeze bunt off Chad Durbin made it 5-0 in the seventh.

Pinch-hitter Roger Cedeno walked with the bases loaded and Tony Womack followed with a run-scoring infield hit against Randy Choate in the eighth.

Notes

The Cardinals stole three bases in four attempts against Fossum, who picked off Renteria in the sixth. Sanders stole his 20th and 21st bases, giving him four seasons with 20 homers and 20 steals. … Womack had two hits and is batting .362 (17-for-47) during an 11-game hitting streak. He’s also hitting .391 (9-for-23) against Arizona pitching. … Bautista was 0-for-4, ending an eight-game hitting streak.

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