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Cardinals fall further behind in wild-card race

Cardinals fall further behind in wild-card race

September 18th, 2011 by ROB MAADDI, AP Sports Writer in News

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - While the Philadelphia Phillies celebrated, the St. Louis Cardinals' chances of joining the postseason party took a hit.

Roy Oswalt threw seven dominant innings, Raul Ibanez hit a grand slam and the Phillies clinched their fifth straight NL East title with a 9-2 victory over the Cardinals on Saturday night.

St. Louis fell 4½ games behind Atlanta in the wild-card race with 11 remaining. They had won eight of nine to narrow the gap from 8½ back on Sept. 6.

"We played with a lot of urgency," manager Tony LaRussa said. "It was 3-2 in the eighth inning. We dodged bullets left and right. The score is misleading. I just wish the score was the other way around."

Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook (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.

"Sometimes he struggles early and he got a couple balls up," LaRussa said.

Oswalt (8-9) allowed no runs and five hits, striking out seven. Brad Lidge got one out in the eighth after Michael Stutes ran into trouble, and Ryan Madson finished with a seven-run cushion.

"He's a good pitcher and he pitched good tonight," Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina said. "He had a good fastball and changeup."

Michael Stutes nearly blew a 3-0 lead in the eighth after getting the first two outs. Four straight singles by John Jay, Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman and David Freese got the Cardinals within 3-2.

But Lidge came in and retired Allen Craig on a grounder to second on his first pitch to end the inning.

The Phillies then blew it open with six unearned runs in the eighth. Carlos Ruiz reached second when his grounder skipped past third baseman Daniel Descalso for an error. Ruiz went to third on Jimmy Rollins' one-out single and scored on Shane Victorino's single up the middle.

After Chase Utley was hit by a pitch, Ryan Howard struck out.

Octavio Dotel entered and Hunter Pence hustled out an infield single to shortstop Rafael Furcal to drive in another run. Furcal looked to second before throwing to first and it cost him an out.

Ibanez then hit his slam to right to put it away.

"Utley hustled on that play," LaRussa said.

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.

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 and Cliff Lee. 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.

Oswalt struck out Skip Schumaker on a 76 mph curve to leave two runners on in the seventh. All of his Ks came on swings.

"He's a hell of a pitcher," LaRussa said.

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 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.

Arthur Rhodes came in and retired Utley on a shallow fly and Howard on a grounder.

Victorino hit a solo homer off Kyle McClellan in the sixth. He's been slumping lately, batting just .163 (14 for 86) in his previous 21 games.

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 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.