CHICAGO — Jeff Suppan allowed six hits over eight-plus innings and St. Louis beat Chicago 6-1 on Thursday night to clinch the NL Central for the fourth time in six years. The game was called with two outs in the bottom of the ninth after a 58-minute rain delay.
The Cardinals, who lost to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series last year, are the first team to clinch a playoff berth this season.
The victory over the Cubs coupled with Atlanta's 6-4 win over Philadelphia gave St. Louis (94-54) the division title because Houston could at best match the Cardinals at 94 wins, with both teams assured of playoff berths at that figure. St. Louis has the tiebreaker because it clinched the season series against the Astros.
St. Louis jumped on Mark Prior for three first-inning runs as David Eckstein and Albert Pujols singled, Larry Walker doubled in a run, John Rodriguez had an RBI grounder and Abraham Nunez beat out a run-scoring infield single to short.
Suppan (15-10) retired 13 straight after a third-inning single by Todd Walker before Neifi Perez singled in the eighth.
Derrek Lee's 43rd homer leading off the bottom of the ninth ended Suppan's night and ruined his shutout bid. As rain began to fall, the Cubs loaded the bases against Al Reyes. Catcher Yadier Molina missed Henry Blanco's foul popup that would have ended the game. and then Blanco reached to load the bases when Eckstein slipped and fell fielding his grounder to short just before the delay.
BRAVES 6, PHILLIES 4: At Philadelphia, Chipper Jones hit two homers and tied his career-high with five RBIs, helping Atlanta avert a four-game sweep. The Braves extended their lead in the NL East over the Phillies and Florida Marlins to six games. Houston, which beat Florida 4-1 on Thursday night, moved to the front of the wild-card standings, one-half game ahead of Philadelphia and Florida. Jorge Sosa (12-3) allowed two runs and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings for the Braves and Adam LaRoche had a solo homer. Jones hit a three-run homer in the third inning and a two-run shot in the seventh for his 32nd career multihomer game.
ASTROS 4, MARLINS 1: At Houston, Andy Pettitte allowed one run over eight innings to win his sixth straight start and Houston moved back in front of the wild-card race. Pettitte (16-9) scattered five hits and struck out five. Aside from Miguel Cabrera's 32nd homer leading off the seventh, the left-hander allowed five baserunners, three of whom were erased by double-play grounders.
BREWERS 14, DIAMONDBACKS 2: At Phoenix, Bill Hall had a career-high five hits and Chad Moeller drove in four runs for Milwaukee. Jeff Cirillo went 3-for-4 with two walks and three RBIs, including a two-run homer against reliever Jason Bulger in the sixth inning to make it 14-0. Carlos Lee had a two-run shot for the Brewers, who won for the seventh time in 10 games. Milwaukee had 19 hits and tied a season high with its 14 runs.
NATIONALS 6, METS 5 (10): At New York, Vinny Castilla drove in the go-ahead run with a two-out single in the 10th inning and Washington completed the three-game sweep of New York. Cliff Floyd hit a grand slam and Jose Reyes also homered for the Mets, who have lost 15 of 18.