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Cardinals clinch NL Central title with Pirates' loss, beat Diamondbacks 1-0 in finale

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PHOENIX — The St. Louis Cardinals never made it easy on themselves, laboring through injuries and inconsistency, unable to get into the NL Central race until around the All-Star break.

Even after they surged into the lead, the Cardinals had a hard time finishing it off, limping to the finish while allowing Pittsburgh to hang around for a chance at the division title.

It all came down to game No. 162 and it ended up being the easiest win of the season — even if they didn't need it.

The Cardinals clinched their second straight NL Central title before the first pitch Sunday and finished off the regular season with a get-to-the-celebration 1-0 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Next up: The Dodgers in the NL division series Friday in Los Angeles.

"Fortunately, we weathered the storm and the guys just put their nose down," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "I'm real proud of the guys."

The Cardinals were assured of a playoff spot entering the day. What that spot would be depended on whether they could beat the Diamondbacks or Cincinnati knocked off Pittsburgh.

The Reds took care of business for the Cardinals by beating the Pirates 4-1, a victory that was announced about 10 minutes before St. Louis' game against Arizona.

The Cardinals celebrated in the dugout, then it did it again after the final out against the Diamondbacks, wildly spraying each other with champagne and beer after an oh-so-sweet finish to their second straight 90-win season.

"We know Pittsburgh had a good run, but we had a better one," Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina said.

Once Sunday's game started, both teams seemed to go through the motions, the only run coming on Kolten Wong's groundout in the sixth inning off Josh Collmenter (11-9).

The Cardinals scratched scheduled starter Adam Wainwright just before the start, using five relievers instead. Justin Masterson (3-3) pitched two scoreless innings and Carlos Martinez got the final two outs for his first save.

Arizona went down meekly, managing two hits to finish 64-98, worst in the majors and second-worst record in team history.

"We had higher expectations coming out of the spring," Arizona reliever Brad Ziegler said. "Whether you look at the injuries or the pure lack of execution on the field, this is not how we wanted to finish. We definitely don't feel like we are the worse team in baseball, even though the record says we were this year."

PHOTO: St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong makes a play for the out on a ball hit by Arizona Diamondbacks Mark Trumbo in the fourth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong makes a play for the out on a ball hit by Arizona Diamondbacks Mark Trumbo in the fourth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

The Cardinals went to the World Series last season, yet have seemed to make it hard on themselves this season, taking the NL Central race down to the final game after limping to the finish.

St. Louis had a chance to wrap up the division title Saturday night, but couldn't put away the Diamondbacks, losing 5-2 after Mark Trumbo hit a pair of homers.

Cincinnati eliminated the drama for St. Louis with a win that sent the Pirates to the wild-card game and St. Louis into the division series. The result was announced at Chase Field about 10 minutes before first pitch and the Cardinals celebrated with a round of high-fives and hugs in the dugout.

"I think I threw a pitch without looking because I was watching the scoreboard," Wainwright said. "It was a great feeling."

Matheny said Wainwright would start the season finale regardless of what happened with the Pirates, but he was replaced by Nick Greenwood just before the game.

With nothing to play for on either side, the Cardinals and Diamondbacks breezed through a brisk, free-swinging game that was more like spring training than a season finale.

COLLMENTER'S OUTING

Collmenter was Arizona's best starter down the stretch of the season and turned in another solid outing the finale, even if he didn't get much support. The right-hander allowed three hits in eight innings, dropping his ERA to 1.26 over his final seven starts.

"I just wanted to finish the season strong," Collmenter said.

NUMBERS

The Cardinals notched their 23rd shutout of the season, third-most in team history. The 1968 team had 30 and the 1944 team 26. ... Arizona's Ender Inciarte went 0 for 4 to end a 15-game hitting streak. ... Masterson earned his first win as a reliever since July 5, 2009, against Seattle.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Cardinals: LF Matt Holliday was out of the lineup after leaving in the sixth inning Saturday night due to flu-like symptoms.

UP NEXT:

Cardinals: Wainright will start against NL Cy Young Award favorite Clayton Kershaw in the division series opener against the Dodgers.

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Photo Gallery:
PHOTO: A fan holds up a sign before a baseball game between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the St. Louis Cardinals, Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014, in Phoenix. The St. Louis Cardinals won the National League Central Division with a Pittsburgh Pirates loss earlier in the day. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
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