St. Louis Cardinals clinch first playoff berth


NEW YORK, AP

The St. Louis Cardinals became the first team to book their playoff tickets, and the San Francisco Giants shouldn’t be too far behind.

Jim Edmonds’ third-inning grand slam got the Cardinals’ clinching party off to an early start as St. Louis won the National League Central with a 11-6 win over the Houston Astros on Wednesday night.

“You get the grand slam to start the game going and you just hope everybody else can follow,” Edmonds said. “You don’t want it to be close. You want to get it over and relax.”

A sellout crowd at Busch Stadium saw the Cardinals win the division title for the first time since 1996, manager Tony La Russa’s first year with the team.

The Giants moved within one win of clinching the NL West title as Barry Bonds homered into McCovey Cove, and Russ Ortiz threw six hitless innings in a 4-2 win over Cincinnati.

The Giants can win the division by beating Arizona on Thursday night. The Diamondbacks lost 1-0 at Los Angeles.

“It’ll be tough,” Giants manager Dusty Baker said. “That last breath out of anybody is tough, but this city is ready for it and this organization is ready for it.”

Ray Lankford followed Edmonds’ slam by homering on the next pitch from Chris Holt (7-15). Lankford and Craig Paquette each homered twice as St. Louis won for the eighth time in nine games.

Mark McGwire, limited to 79 games by a severe case of tendinitis in his right knee, was at the center of the celebration that will send him to the playoffs for the first time in eight years — although probably in a pinch-hitting role.

“This is what baseball is all about,” McGwire shouted. “This is what I’ve been trying to preach the last couple years. It’s a team sport.”

Giants 4, Reds 2 Bonds’ towering homer into the mist and water beyond Pacific Bell Park’s right-field wall was the high point of a celebratory night for the Giants.

The homer tied Bonds with Lou Gehrig for 17th on the majors’ career list and brought a raucous ovation from the Giants’ fans.

Dodgers 1, Diamondbacks 0 Eric Karros hit a leadoff home run in the ninth off Byung-Hyun Kim (6-6) to give Los Angeles its second straight 1-0 victory and a sweep of the three-game series.

Mets 6, Braves 3 Al Leiter (16-7) outpitched Tom Glavine (19-9) and New York finally broke through with three homers at Turner Field.

Edgardo Alfonzo, Todd Zeile and Mike Piazza hit solo shots as the Mets avoided a three-game sweep and won for just the third time in their last 23 games at Atlanta.

Expos 4, Marlins 2 Vladimir Guerrero tied his club record with his 42nd homer and Javier Vazquez (11-7) had 11 strikeouts for host Montreal.

Pirates 7, Phillies 6, 10 innings Emil Brown and Adam Hyzdu homered in the 10th off Chris Brock (7-8) to lift Pittsburgh to a three-game sweep at Veterans Stadium.

Brewers 3, Cubs 2, 10 innings First baseman Mark Grace misplayed Geoff Jenkins’ grounder for an error in the bottom of the 10th, giving Milwaukee the win at home.

Padres 15, Rockies 11 Dave Magadan and Mike Darr each had four RBIs as San Diego scored a season-high 15 runs.

John Mabry, a career .494 hitter (40-for-81) at Coors Field, went 3-for-4 with a homer and single.