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Cards clinch Central Division title...sorta

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  • Cards clinch Central Division title...sorta

    Cards clinch division title
    By Joe Strauss

    CHICAGO The Cardinals secured a postseason berth Thursday night by beating the Chicago Cubs.

    They celebrated with silence.

    Changing nothing except a photo op, the Cardinals technically clinched the National League Central with a rain- shortened 6-1 win before 37,849 at Wrigley Field but refused to acknowledge the accomplishment. A degreed lawyer, not a mathematician, manager Tony La Russa endorsed stowing champagne until there were no leftover hairs to split.

    Combined with the second-place Houston Astros' 4-1 win over the Florida Marlins, the 94-54 Cardinals have 14 fewer losses than the Astros with 14 games remaining.

    Because of an 11-3 edge in their season series with 78-68 Houston, the Cardinals would be deemed division champions and the Astros "co-champions" in the event of a tie. But the Cardinals clubhouse would have none of it. Technically, the team's magic number remains one. In practice, because of how Major League Baseball seeds the playoffs, one means the same as zero in this case.

    "I think we understand we're officially in October baseball," La Russa said. "But we discussed it last year and again this year. It just doesn't seem right to celebrate it when the magic number is one. You're watching the number go 10, 9, 8 ... and it gets to one so you celebrate? When it gets to zero, you celebrate. That's what we're going to do."

    The press box was notified in the sixth inning that players had decided to postpone celebrating their accomplishment until they win the division outright. La Russa chafed last September when it was reported that the Cardinals had clinched the division due to their tiebreaker edge before their magic number dropped to zero. The same situation existed Wednesday night.

    But this time, with general partner Bill DeWitt Jr. and chairman Fred Hanser in attendance, general manager Walt Jocketty approached La Russa during a ninth-inning, 58- minute rain delay about revisiting the decision to postpone any acknowledgement.

    Asked about the decision, one team official deferred, "Not my department."

    "I'll say exactly what I said last year: It's one; it's not zero," La Russa said. "I think we'll take the consistent approach."

    A number of players said they were unaware of any decision to delay an acknowledgment.

    "Strange ... very strange," a Cubs official said of the decision not to celebrate.

    The win secured the Cardinals' fifth postseason berth in six seasons, but no clincher has approached the surreal air of Wednesday's delayed moment.

    With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, catcher Yadier Molina missed a foul pop and shortstop David Eckstein slipped on a ground ball, allowing the Cubs to load the bases against Al Reyes. The heavens opened before La Russa could make a pitching change, and the order given to cover the field. Wrigley Field was virtually deserted less than 30 minutes later. Fewer than 1,000 fans remained in the park when the outcome became official.

    By then, clubhouse attendants had begun fitting locker stalls for plastic, only to later be told to stand down.

    "You don't play to win the division, you play to win the championship ring," first baseman Albert Pujols said. "We didn't get it last year. How many Central Division titles does this team have? We don't care about that. It doesn't matter what kind of record we have. Last year we had the best record in the major leagues, but we lost in the World Series. Nobody's talking about (the record). Everybody talks about the world champions. You concentrate on getting back there and winning."

    The Cardinals intend to celebrate should they beat the Cubs behind Matt Morris this afternoon. "If we get beat (Friday) and Houston gets beat, we play again Saturday and after the game we celebrate," La Russa said.

    "There's a lot more to it than just winning the division," second baseman Mark Grudzielanek said.

    Unlike the definition of "clinch," starting pitcher Jeff Suppan's eight-plus innings were not open for interpretation. Pushing beyond seven innings for the first time since June 24, Suppan (15-10) took a shutout into the ninth before first baseman Derrek Lee opened the frame with his 43rd home run.

    Eckstein opened the game with an opposite-field single and took third base on Pujols' one-out single to left. Right fielder Larry Walker, whose playing time is being rationed to keep him available for the next month, gave the Cardinals a quick lead by punishing a double to left- center field.

    Pujols held third but scored when left fielder John Rodriguez grounded out to a relaxed infield. Walker advanced to third on Rodriguez's grounder and scored as third baseman Abraham Nunez chopped a grounder over pitcher Mark Prior that left no play.

    On a drizzly night with the wind blowing in, Suppan (15-10) could allow the Cubs to hack away with little fear of anything leaving the Friendly Confines - at least until Lee connected.

    The Cardinals put away the game with a three- run eighth inning that included an RBI bases-loaded walk, a sacrifice fly and an errant, run-scoring flip by Cubs second baseman Todd Walker.

    No matter what happens the rest of the way, the Astros can do no better than tie the Cardinals.

    And because no other runner-up can match the Astros' record if they run the table - thus eliminating the possibility of a three-team play-in for two playoff spots - the Cardinals would be classified division champs in the event of a tie with Houston.

    "Can't buy what I want because it's free...
    Can't buy what I want because it's free..."
    -- Pearl Jam, from the single Corduroy

  • #2
    This is from the Trib today. Couldn't have said it better:

    The Cardinals were leading the Cubs 6-1 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth Thursday night when great squalls of rain strafed Wrigley. The Phillies already had lost 6-4 to Atlanta on Thursday night and that, along with the Cardinals' eventual victory, gave St. Louis the Central title.

    There were rumors that La Russa would recognize the accomplishment only if division rival Houston lost. In other words, there would be no celebration at Wrigley on Thursday. The Astros didn't cooperate, beating Florida 4-1.

    Can you imagine the Cubs ever turning down a chance to celebrate anything? When they clinched a wild-card berth in 1998, you would have thought they had just won the World Series and saved the whales. The Cubs would celebrate Ron Santo's half birthday every year if they thought they could.

    And here were the Cardinals, possibly turning down an invitation to party. It's sort of galling. The Cubs play this badly all season, and they don't even have to experience the pain and embarrassment of watching someone else grab what they so dearly wanted in April.

    The Cubs will have to wait until Friday or Saturday. This must be what if feels like to be toyed with.

    That's one of the differences between the Cubs and the Cardinals, one of many differences. The Cardinals have done this so often they can wait for the right conditions, like NASA waiting for the right weather conditions for a shuttle launch. La Russa pulled the same thing last year.

    Must be fun. [/b][/quote]

    It is fun. Oh so fun. Especially since I didn't make it last night but will be there today and tomorrow during which they should "officially" clinch at some point.

    Oh so fun.
    Of course you do.


    • #3
      So will they celebrate today?


      • #4
        QUOTE(#1 Jimmy fan @ Sep 16 2005, 02:50 PM) Quoted post

        So will they celebrate today?
        if the Cards win or the Astros lose, I guess
        Sponsor of:
        Brian Elliott
        Kolten Wong & the arch in the outfield grass at Busch Stadium
        5-29-14-House77 turns down offer of free beer from me


        • #5
          QUOTE(Guppy @ Sep 16 2005, 02:51 PM) Quoted post

          QUOTE(#1 Jimmy fan @ Sep 16 2005, 02:50 PM) Quoted post

          So will they celebrate today?
          if the Cards win or the Astros lose, I guess

          I was guessing that, but I dont know for sure. Guess we'll find out, huh...


          • #6
            Morris is pitching [img]style_emoticons/<#EMO_DIR#>/blink.gif[/img]
            Go Cards ...12 in 13.