ST. LOUIS — Chris Carpenter became the first 21-game winner in the major leagues, Albert Pujols homered twice and the St. Louis Cardinals beat the fading New York Mets 5-0 Thursday night.
New York has lost 10 of 12 following a 9-2 stretch, falling to 70-70. The Mets, on the verge of taking the wild-card lead on Aug. 31 before Pedro Martinez faltered against Philadelphia, have lost eight of nine since then and dropped 5 1/2 games behind Houston, which leads in the wild-card chase.
St. Louis cut the magic number for clinching its second straight NL Central title to 10.
Carpenter (21-4) allowed three hits in seven innings, struck out seven and walked one, lowering his ERA to 2.21, second in the NL to Roger Clemens' 1.57. He has started 22 consecutive games in which he allowed three runs or fewer while pitching six innings, the longest stretch in the NL since Bob Gibson did it 22 straight times in 1968.
Carpenter gave up two hits in the first, then retired 16 in a row — with just two batters hitting balls that reached the outfield — before Carlos Beltran singled leading off the seventh. Three relievers followed him and completed a four-hitter, the 13th shutout for St. Louis this season.
Pujols has three homers in his last five at-bats and four in four games. He just missed another in the first inning, flying out to the center-field warning track.
MARLINS 8, NATIONALS 4: At Washington, Josh Beckett hit his first career home run, and Miguel Cabrera and Juan Pierre drove in three runs each to lead Florida over Washington. Beckett (13-8) struck out seven in 6 2/3 innings, allowing two runs and six hits. He had been 0-2 in three starts since beating Milwaukee on Aug. 23.
Florida won three straight, outscoring Washington 24-7, after losing the series opener. The Marlins moved within a half-game of Houston, the NL wild-card leader, and Washington dropped four games behind the Astros.
John Patterson (8-5) gave up seven runs and nine hits in 4 2-3 innings. He had been 6-0 with a 1.79 ERA in 15 starts at RFK Stadium.
Washington's bullpen has been taxed this week because of short outings by the starters. Darrell Rasner got just eight outs on Tuesday in his major league debut and John Halama got only two outs Wednesday.
PIRATES 8, DIAMONDBACKS 7 (12): At Pittsburgh, Jason Bay hit a tying, two-run homer off Tim Worrell in the ninth, and Humberto Cota singled home the winning run off Buddy Groom (0-1) in the 12th.
PADRES 3, ROCKIES 2: At San Diego, Robert Fick singled in the winning run off Jose Acevedo (2-4) with two outs in the 10th as San Diego (70-69) took two of three from last-place Colorado. Brian Lawrence, Akinori Otsuka, Trevor Hoffman and Scott Linebrink combined to five-hit the Rockies. Linebrink (6-1) pitched a perfect 10th. San Diego is seven games ahead of Los Angeles and San Francisco, tied for second at 63-76.
CUBS 5, GIANTS 3: At San Francisco, Nomar Garciaparra hit a tiebreaking two-run double in the seventh innings, and Carlos Zambrano struck out his last five batters in Chicago's sixth road victory in seven games. Michael Barrett hit a first-inning homer and Garciaparra drove in three runs for the Cubs, who blew an early three-run lead before rallying against Noah Lowry (12-12), who had won his last six starts. Randy Winn hit a leadoff homer for the Giants, who dropped seven games behind NL West-leading San Diego with their third straight loss following a six-game winning streak.