Phillies win, clinch 5th straight NL East title
The Philadelphia Phillies won another division crown, and Pence is along for his first postseason ride.
Roy Oswalt(notes) threw seven dominant innings, Raul Ibanez(notes) hit a grand slam and the Phillies clinched their fifth straight NL East title with a 9-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday night.
“I’ve waited for this moment a long time,” said Pence, the All-Star outfielder who joined Philadelphia in a trade from last-place Houston on July 29.
“It’s incredible, and I’m enjoying the moment. We’ve got a lot of work to do still. The expectation is to win the World Series, but this is one of the steps you gotta make, and to me it’s my first time, so this is great.”
In a season where nothing less than a World Series championship would be considered a success, there wasn’t much of a party on the field. The Phillies had a been-there, done-that attitude toward winning the division last year, and this time was no different.
Players ran onto the diamond a bit faster than usual, but they simply exchanged handshakes, hugs and high-fives as if this was an ordinary game in April. They did at least put on shirts and hats proclaiming themselves division champs.
The fans didn’t even scream all that loud, even when the Phillie Phanatic ran on the field with a big flag that said 2011.
Once they reached the clubhouse, however, the Phillies popped open the bubbly and celebrated their achievement.
With the Four Aces leading the way, the Phillies are seeking their third NL pennant in four years and second World Series title.
They’ve taken care of the first step. Now they’ll use the 12 remaining games to get ready for the postseason. It’s still uncertain who the Phillies will face in the best-of-five first round when the NL playoffs begin Oct. 1.
The major league-leading Phillies (98-52) are four wins away from setting a single-season club record.
None of those accomplishments will matter if they don’t finish the season with a championship parade on Broad Street.
“It’s an extraordinary effort,” team president David Montgomery said. “Clearly, it’s a team that has its priorities in order.”
Oswalt (8-9) allowed no runs and five hits, striking out seven. Brad Lidge(notes) got one out in the eighth after Michael Stutes(notes) ran into trouble, and Ryan Madson(notes) finished with a seven-run cushion.
St. Louis fell 4 1/2 games behind Atlanta in the wild-card race. They had won eight of nine to narrow the gap from 8 1/2 back on Sept. 6.
“We played with a lot of urgency,” Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa said.
Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook(notes) (12-9) allowed one earned run and five hits in 3 1-3 innings. He’s given up two earned runs or less in 11 of his 16 road starts this season, but fell to 8-4 away from home.
Oswalt, Philadelphia’s best pitcher down the stretch last year after coming over from Houston in a trade on July 29, left spring training as the No. 3 starter behind Roy Halladay(notes) and Cliff Lee(notes). But he struggled after starting 3-0, and a back injury forced him to the disabled twice.
The three-time All-Star was vintage Oswalt against the Cardinals. His fastball reached 94 mph a few times, and he had a nasty curveball.
“I’m not really going to be satisfied until we win that last game,” Oswalt said. “I’ve done enough personal stuff that it really doesn’t matter. All I want now is to win that last game. That’s all any of us really want.”
Stutes nearly blew a 3-0 lead in the eighth after getting the first two outs. Four straight singles by John Jay, Albert Pujols(notes), Lance Berkman(notes) and David Freese(notes) got the Cardinals within 3-2.
The Phillies then blew it open with six unearned runs in the eighth. Carlos Ruiz(notes) reached second when his grounder skipped past third baseman Daniel Descalso(notes) for an error. Ruiz went to third on Jimmy Rollins’(notes) one-out single and scored on Shane Victorino’s(notes) single up the middle.
After Utley was hit by a pitch, Howard struck out.
Pence gave the Phillies a 1-0 lead on an RBI double in the first. An error by Furcal helped the Phillies add a run in the fourth. Placido Polanco(notes) led off with a walk. Oswalt sacrificed with one out and Furcal dropped the throw to second. Rollins followed with a single to load the bases. Victorino walked to force in Polanco to make it 2-0.
That ended Westbrook’s night.
NOTES: A crowd of 45,470 was the 211th straight sellout at Citizens Bank Park, including playoffs. … This was the fastest the Phillies ever clinched a division title. The previous was Game No. 156 in 1976. … The Phillies had all their regulars in the starting lineup for the first time since Aug. 6. … Rollins was 4 for 5. He was 3 for 20 coming in. … The Phillies had scored just 22 runs in the last nine games before getting six in the eighth. … The Cardinals are 6-28 when scoring fewer than three runs. … St. Louis used seven pitchers. … Hamels (14-8) faces Chris Carpenter (9-9) when the teams meet Sunday night.