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St. Louis Cardinals take NL Central title with win in Pittsburgh

By
John Perrotto, The Sports Xchange
St. Louis Cardinals Jhonny Peralta (27) hits a two RBI single in the eighth inning of their 11-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, that clinched the National League Central Division championship in game two of a doubleheader at PNC Park in Pittsburgh on September 30, 2015. Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI
St. Louis Cardinals Jhonny Peralta (27) hits a two RBI single in the eighth inning of their 11-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, that clinched the National League Central Division championship in game two of a doubleheader at PNC Park in Pittsburgh on September 30, 2015. Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo

PITTSBURGH -- The St. Louis Cardinals waited until after the game ended before celebrating their third straight National League Central title.

They could have started popping the champagne corks in the third inning.

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The Cardinals wrapped up the division title Wednesday with an 11-1 rout of the Pittsburgh Pirates as Jason Heyward had a third-inning grand slam among his three hits and spot starter Tyler Lyons pitched seven scoreless innings in the second game of a day-night doubleheader.

The Cardinals (100-59) reached 100 wins for the first time since 2005 on their way to a club-record fifth consecutive postseason appearance.

"I was the guy who got the big hit but anybody on this team could be the hero," Heyward said. "We have guys up and down the lineup who can hit and a great pitching staff. That's why we're sitting here on Sept. 30 with 100 wins and a division title. We have a great team."

The Pirates (96-63) are assured of finishing second to the Cardinals for the third consecutive year despite having the second-most wins in the major leagues.

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"We really had to earn this," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "I knew it was going to come down to the wire because we were battling two great teams in our division in the Pirates and (Chicago) Cubs. It was a battle all year and it's an accomplishment to come out on top."

The Pirates will play in the one-game NL wild-card playoff for a third straight year, meeting the Chicago Cubs on Oct. 7. Pittsburgh holds a 2 1/2-game lead for the first wild card and home-field advantage with four days left in the regular season.

The Cardinals will meet the wild-card winner in the best-of-five National League Division Series, which will open Oct. 9 at St. Louis.

"We've still got to stay focused on right where we are," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "The ultimate goal hasn't changed, to win a world championship. We're just going to have go about it in a different method now."

Heyward's second career grand slam came in the third inning and gave the Cardinals a commanding 6-0 lead. The right fielder's other slam came in 2013 when he played for the Atlanta Braves. He also hit a double.

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Lyons (3-1) allowed just four hits in his first start since Sept. 2. He did not walk a batter and had five strikeouts. The left-hander was pitching in place of right-hander Carlos Martinez, a 14-game winner who was placed on the 60-day disabled list before the first game Wednesday with a strained right shoulder.

"I wasn't nervous," Lyons said. "I looked at this as a great opportunity to pitch the clincher of what is arguably the best division in baseball."

Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter doubled, tripled and scored three runs after hitting his 28th home run of the season in the first game.

Shortstop Jhonny Peralta added two hits and three RBIs, hitting a run-scoring single in the seventh and a two-run single in the eighth that pushed the lead to 9-0.

Catcher Tony Cruz blasted a two-run homer, his second, in the ninth inning to complete the rout.

Cruz and second baseman Kolten Wong each added two hits.

Pirates right-hander Charlie Morton (9-9) lasted just two-plus innings, getting rocked for five runs and five hits with one walk and one strikeout. He is 0-10 in his last 13 starts, dating to 2011, against the Cardinals.

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Morton has been woeful late in the season, allowing 17 runs in 10 1/3 innings over his last three starts, and is not expected to be part of the postseason rotation.

Morton fought back tears while talking to reporters after the game.

"This is a game I come into and I want to win," Morton said. "Folks showed up tonight, everybody's excited and I go out there and I give it up. It's just heartbreaking."

Pirates third baseman Aramis Ramirez had two hits and pinch-hitter Chris Stewart drove in the lone run with a double in the eighth.

NOTES: Cardinals rookie OF/1B Stephen Piscotty rejoined the team Wednesday but was unavailable to play in the doubleheader after sustaining a mild concussion and head contusion on Monday night in a collision with OF Peter Bourjos. Piscotty was hospitalized overnight Monday and rested at the team hotel Tuesday. Doctors are confident Piscotty will be able to play before the regular season ends Sunday. ... Cardinals RHP Adam Wainwright was activated from the 60-day disabled list after being out since April 26 with a torn left Achilles tendon. The longtime ace of the rotation will be used in relief. ... Cardinals RHP Carlos Martinez was placed on the 60-day disabled list to open a spot on the 40-man roster for Wainwright. Martinez left his start Sept. 25 against Milwaukee with a strained right shoulder.

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