Reds, Giants clinch division titles: NL roundup
CINCINNATI — The Reds' Mr. Clinch got their championship party started on the second try.
Jay Bruce's 34th homer put the Reds ahead to stay, and they made good on their second chance to win the NL Central title by beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-0 on Saturday without Dusty Baker.
The 63-year-old manager spent another day in a Chicago hospital getting treated for an irregular heartbeat. The Reds brought him his fifth division title as a manager, including two during the last three years with Cincinnati.
Bruce's first-pitch, leadoff homer in the ninth off Houston's Tim Byrdak clinched the title for Cincinnati in 2010. On Saturday, he led off the fourth inning with a first-pitch homer off rookie Stephen Fife (0-2), and Cincinnati's main offseason pitching acquisition made it stand up.
Mat Latos (13-4) allowed six hits and didn't walk a batter in eight innings. Left-hander Aroldis Chapman made his first appearance since Sept. 10 — a tired shoulder sidelined him — and finished it off by getting Hanley Ramirez to hit into a double play off a 99 mph fastball.
The celebration was on.
Players formed a huddle to the side of the mound, with pitcher Johnny Cueto spraying them with a bottle of water. An attendant rolled out a cart of gray championship shirts and hats.
They had felt it coming.
As the Reds pulled away, second baseman Brandon Phillips pretended he was shaking a bottle of champagne and spraying it everywhere while sitting on the bench in the dugout. Phillips says the only other time he's had champagne was during the 2010 clubhouse celebration.
Cincinnati became the first team in the majors to clinch a division title this season, leaving it with one goal left. The Reds are vying with Washington for the NL's top seed in the playoffs, both with 92 wins that lead the majors.
It's unclear when Baker will be back. The three-time manager of the year also won division titles with the Giants and Cubs. Baker reached the World Series once as a manager, losing a Game 7 against the Angels in 2002, his final season in San Francisco.
The Reds had their first opportunity to take the title on Friday night, but lost 3-1 to the Dodgers in 10 innings. Bruce had a chance to win it with another game-ending homer, but struck out leading off the ninth.
A day later, Bruce connected, Phillips added a solo homer, and rookie Todd Frazier singled home a run for more than enough. The Reds added three runs in the eighth, aided by reliever Jamey Wright's throwing error.
The Dodgers lost for the 11th time in 16 games, a swoon that has dropped them out of a wild-card spot. They trail St. Louis by three games and Milwaukee by a half-game for the final playoff berth.
Cincinnati's 92nd win is another high point under Baker, who took over in 2008 when the club was rebuilding with young stars Bruce, Joey Votto and Cueto. The Reds improved each of the first two seasons, then became champions ahead of schedule by winning 91 games in 2010 to secure their first postseason appearance in 15 years.
Their inexperience showed in the playoffs, where the Reds got no-hit by Roy Halladay and swept by the Phillies in three games. Votto won the National League's MVP award.
Things unraveled last year, when the front office decided to bring the team back virtually intact rather than upgrading its problem areas. Three of the five starting pitchers got hurt or sick during spring training, and several veterans had disappointing seasons, resulting in a third-place finish.
Cincinnati learned from its mistakes. The Reds traded two former first-round picks and starter Edinson Volquez to San Diego for Latos. Then they gave Votto an extra 10 years and $225 million on his contract.
Baker did some of his best managing during the season. The back end of the bullpen — closer Ryan Madson, set-up relievers Nick Masset and Bill Bray — got wiped out by injuries during spring training. Baker eased Chapman into the unfamiliar closer's role, and he set a club record with 27 consecutive saves.
The gloomiest moment became a turning point.
Votto was the only consistent hitter going into July. He tore cartilage in his right knee and needed two operations. Baker was forced to juggle his lineup and batting order, trying to figure a way to make up for Votto's productivity and stay in the race for the next six weeks.
It worked beautifully. The Reds went 32-16 without Votto, pulling into a commanding lead in the NL Central. They were closing in on clinching the division when they went to Chicago this week, then had another setback. Baker felt bad on Wednesday and was taken to a Chicago hospital for treatment of his irregular heartbeat.
He was in their thoughts when they finally won the title.
"I guess we've got to go out there and win one for the skipper," rookie shortstop Zack Cozart said as the series started.
CHICAGO — John Jay's RBI double in the 10th inning lifted St. Louis over the Chicago Cubs 5-4 on Saturday, bolstering the Cardinals' bid for another playoff appearance.
Carlos Beltran hit a tying solo homer in the ninth for the Cardinals, who began the day with a two-game lead over Los Angeles for the second NL wild-card spot. Milwaukee dropped 2 ½ games.
The defending World Series champion Cardinals have 10 games left in the regular season. They bounced back from an agonizing 11-inning loss at Wrigley Field the previous day.
The Cubs need to win four of their last 10 games to avoid the third 100-loss season in franchise history and first since 1966.
WASHINGTON — Gio Gonzalez became the majors' first 20-game winner in 2012, and the first pitcher for a Washington baseball team with 200 strikeouts since Walter Johnson in 1916, taking a shutout into the sixth inning Saturday to help the Nationals close in on their first NL East title by beating the Milwaukee Brewers 10-4.
Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond each hit a three-run homer off former Nationals pitcher Livan Hernandez in the fourth inning, and Washington stopped Milwaukee's six-game winning streak. The Brewers entered Saturday 1 ½ games behind St. Louis for an NL wild-card berth.
Owners of baseball's best record, the Nationals already are assured of post-season play, and Gonzalez (20-8, 2.84 ERA) is a big reason.
Other than a bit of a pratfall in the seventh — it wasn't immediately clear why Gonzalez tumbled off the mound and landed face-first in the grass after a pitch — the lefty was pretty dominant Saturday. He went seven innings, allowing two unearned runs and three hits. He only walked one, and his five strikeouts raised his total to 201.
NEW YORK — R.A. Dickey earned his 19th victory with a strong performance, Jason Bay and Scott Hairston homered and the New York Mets barely held on in the ninth inning for their second straight home win, 4-3 over the Miami Marlins on Saturday.
Just hours after the Mets snapped a nine-game losing streak at Citi Field on Friday and scored more than three runs in their home ballpark for the first time since Aug. 12, New York broke out the bats again in front of a crowd of 30,332.
The Marlins rallied in the ninth, capped by John Buck's three-run homer off Jon Rauch after Dickey (19-6) left. The home run was confirmed after the second video replay of the game when umpires ruled the shot struck the left-field foul pole.
PHILADELPHIA — Freddie Freeman hit a three-run homer to back Mike Minor and the Atlanta Braves roughed up Roy Halladay to move closer to clinching a post-season berth with an 8-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday.
The win coupled with Milwaukee's 10-4 loss to Washington reduced Atlanta's magic number for securing a playoff spot to three. The Braves were up 8 ½ games through Sept. 5 last year, but went 9-18 down the stretch and were overtaken by St. Louis on the final day of the season.
The Phillies fell four games behind the Cardinals for the NL's second wild-card spot with only 10 games remaining. The five-time defending NL East champions had won four in a row and 12 of 15 to get in the race.
HOUSTON — Jason Castro hit a three-run homer in the seventh inning and the Houston Astros beat fading Pittsburgh 4-1 Saturday night, handing the Pirates their fifth straight loss.
The Pirates fell 6 ½ games behind St. Louis for the last NL wild-card spot. Pittsburgh has lost 17 of its last 21 and dropped to 74-77, moving closer to its 20th straight losing season.
Rookie Dallas Keuchel (3-7) pitched seven strong innings for the win.
Castro hit his third home run of the season, connecting for a tiebreaking shot off Kevin Correia (11-10).
Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle was ejected in the second inning for arguing a call at first base.
DENVER — Aaron Hill tripled and drove in four runs, Jason Kubel had two hits and two RBIs and the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Colorado Rockies 8-7 on Saturday night.
Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Johnson also had two hits apiece for the Diamondbacks, who have won five of six. J.J. Putz pitched a scoreless ninth for his 31st save.
Wilin Rosario homered among his three hits and Jordan Pacheco also had three hits for the Rockies, who have lost eight straight.
Both starting pitchers struggled and neither got to the fifth inning. Arizona staked Patrick Corbin to the early lead but he allowed five runs and nine hits in just three innings.
Brad Bergesen (2-0) tossed two innings of one-hit ball to get the win.
SAN FRANCISCO — Madison Bumgarner pitched San Francisco to its second NL West title in two years and newcomer Marco Scutaro had three hits and three RBIs in the Giants' 8-4 win over the San Diego Padres on Saturday night.
The Giants captured their eighth divisional crown — wrapping it up once again with a victory over the Padres in front of their home fans, just as they did on the season's final day in 2010 on the way to an improbable World Series championship.
Brandon Belt homered leading off the eighth to give the sellout crowd of 42,418 one more thing to stand and cheer about in a season full of such moments.