By R.B. FALLSTROM
AP Sports Writer
ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Cardinals clinched their first NL Central title in four years, beating the Chicago Cubs 7-0 Friday night behind the strong pitching of Lance Lynn and home runs by David Freese and Matt Holliday.
St. Louis (95-65) has won six of seven and is tied with Atlanta for the best record in the NL. They are assured of home-field advantage when the NL division series starts Thursday.
Adam Wainwright (18-9) was moved up to start today, putting the St. Louis ace on track to start his team’s postseason opener against Cincinnati, Pittsburgh or the Los Angeles Dodgers.
(backslash)A near-sellout crowd of 44,030 was on its feet, roaring and clapping in unison the final half-inning, then snapping pictures and applauding while the team celebrated near the mound. After the final out, Cardinals players put on T-shirts that read: “We Own The Central.”
The Cubs have lost 12 of 16 and watched an opponent clinch for the third time within a week. The Braves wrapped up the NL East on Sunday at Wrigley Field and the Pirates secured a playoff spot in Chicago the following day.
Lynn (15-10) struck out six in a row, starting with Dioner Navarro to end the first. He fanned seven his first time through the order and allowed just four hits over six innings with nine strikeouts and no walks. Lynn has won consecutive starts after a skid in which he was 0-5 with a 5.44 ERA in eight outings.
Leadoff man Starlin Castro had three hits, including a third-inning single that stopped Lynn strikeout streak,
Yadier Molina had two hits and three RBIs to set a single-season best with 78, Jon Jay had two hits and an RBI and leadoff man Matt Carpenter had a single that left him one hit shy of 200.
Travis Wood (9-12) gave up three runs and four hits, leaving after just one inning — when he reached 200 in a season for the first time.
Six batters reached safely with two out: Molina had a two-run double off the left-field wall and Jay extended his hitting streak to 12 with an RBI single.
Holliday hit his 250th career homer and 21st this season leading off the sixth off Blake Parker.
PIRATES 4, REDS 1
CINCINNATI — Marlon Byrd had three hits and Pedro Alvarez hit a two-run homer high off the batter’s eye, leading the Pirates over the Reds 4-1 in a series that will decide the NL wild-card game host.
With the Cardinals clinching the Central title, it comes down to who gets to host the wild-card playoff next Tuesday night, and the Pirates are one win away from taking it to PNC Park.
Byrd and Alvarez provided all of the Pirates’ runs off Homer Bailey (11-12), who is struggling with his control heading into the postseason. A.J. Burnett (10-11) handled the Reds’ slumping lineup, allowing Todd Frazier’s homer and five hits overall in eight innings. Jason Grilli gave up a hit in the ninth while getting his 33rd save in 35 chances.
Cincinnati has lost three straight and scored one run in the last 22 innings.
BRAVES 1, PHILLIES 0
ATLANTA — Chris Johnson led off the eighth inning with a homer to spoil an otherwise dominant start by Cliff Lee, Kris Medlen allowed only two hits in eight innings and the Braves beat the Philadelphia.
Craig Kimbrel pitched a perfect ninth for his 50th save.
Johnson’s homer to left field snapped a streak of 16 consecutive batters retired by Lee (14-8), who allowed only three hits with no walks and 13 strikeouts in eight innings.
Medlen (15-12) strengthened his case to be the Braves’ Game 1 starter in the NL division series next week. He allowed two hits with two walks and seven strikeouts. He has won five straight decisions.
BREWERS 4, METS 2
NEW YORK — Norichika Aoki hit a leadoff homer, Khris Davis connected three batters later and Yovani Gallardo pitched the Brewers to a victory over the Mets.
Martin Maldonado also homered and Gallardo (12-10) went six innings to end his inconsistent season with a win. The right-hander, who won 33 games over the previous two years, finished 4-1 in eight starts since returning from a strained left hamstring.
Jim Henderson pitched a perfect ninth for his 28th save in 32 tries.
Aoki sent the fourth pitch from Carlos Torres (4-6) to right field for his second career leadoff homer.
MARLINS 3, TIGERS 2
MIAMI — Jhonny Peralta had a hit and an RBI double in his first game since completing a 50-game suspension, but the Tigers lost to the Marlins.
Peralta, who was suspended for his involvement with bogenesis, a Florida-based anti-aging clinic accused of distributing performance-enhancing drugs, started in left field.
His first action came when Giancarlo Stanton hit a bases-loaded double in the third inning that gave Miami a 3-0 lead.
Peralta’s run-scoring double chased Miami starter Tom Koehler (5-10) in the sixth and cut the Marlins’ lead to 3-2.
INDIANS 12, TWINS 6
MINNEAPOLIS — Carlos Santana and Asdrubal Cabrera both had two doubles and Jason Kipnis was a homer short of the cycle as the Cleveland Indians had 17 hits in a 12-6 victory over the Minnesota Twins.
With the win and Tampa Bay’s loss at Toronto, the Indians moved into a tie with the Rays for the first AL wild card, one game ahead of Texas, which beat Los Angeles. Cleveland has won eight straight and 13 of 15, taking advantage of a schedule that ends with 10 games against Houston, the Chicago White Sox and the Twins, the three worst teams in the AL this season.
Indians starter Corey Kluber (11-5) managed to win his fifth straight decision. He started the game with three scoreless innings, but then allowed 10 of the next 16 hitters to reach and was knocked out with one out in the sixth. Kluber gave up six earned runs and 10 hits, but walked only one and struck out five.
BLUE JAYS 6, RAYS 3
TORONTO — R.A. Dickey slowed Tampa Bay’s stretch run, leading Toronto to a victory that stopped the Rays’ seven-game winning streak.
Tampa Bay wasted a 2-0 lead and committed a season-high three errors, including a pair by two-time Gold Glove third baseman Evan Longoria. Tampa Bay dropped into a tie with Cleveland for the two AL wild cards, one game ahead of Texas. The Rays’ magic number for clinching remained at two over Texas.
Dickey (14-13) allowed two runs and five hits in 7 1-3 innings, retiring 13 of 14 during one stretch. The 38-year-old knuckleballer, acquired from the New York Mets during the offseason after he won the NL Cy Young Award, struggled earlier this season but finished strongly, going 5-1 with a 3.17 ERA in his last seven starts.
Tampa Bay, which had won seven of its previous nine against Toronto, went ahead on home runs by Ben Zobrist in the first and Delmon Young in the second, his second in two games. Dickey allowed 35 homers, one behind the major league-high total of Oakland’s A.J. Griffin (36).
RANGERS 5, ANGELS 3
ARLINGTON, Texas — Alex Rios had a tiebreaking RBI single in the seventh inning, and Texas finally gained some ground in the AL wild-card race with the victory over Los Angeles.
For the first time during their five-game winning streak the Rangers moved closer in the wild-card standings.
Wild-card leader Tampa Bay lost at Toronto, allowing the Rangers to move within a game of the Rays and Cleveland, which beat Minnesota.
With two games left in the regular season, the Rangers still have a chance to go to the postseason for the fourth year in a row.
The loss was the 82nd for the Angels, ensuring them of only their second losing record the past 10 seasons — when they were AL West champions five times.
Ian Kinsler led off the seventh with a walk off Juan Gutierrez (1-5). He took over after C.J. Wilson threw 121 pitches in six innings. Rios had his run-scoring hit after a sac bunt by Elvis Andrus, then scored on a two-out infield single by A.J. Pierzynski.
YANKEES 3, ASTROS 2
HOUSTON — David Robertson got the save as Mariano Rivera looked on, and New York got a glimpse of its future in a win that sent Houston to its team-record 13th consecutive loss.
David Adams hit a two-run double and Mark Reynolds also drove in a run for the Yankees, who stopped a four-game losing streak.
Houston dropped to 51-109, the most losses for a major league team since the 2004 Arizona Diamondbacks went 51-111.
The Astros’ 322 losses over three seasons are the fifth-most in big league history according to STATS, ahead of only the 1962-64 New York Mets (340), the 1963-65 Mets (332), the 1915-17 Philadelphia Athletics (324) and the 1940-42 Philadelphia Phillies (323).
RED SOX 12, ORIOLES 3
BALTIMORE — Clay Buchholz allowed three runs over seven innings and AL East champion Boston Red routed Baltimore to move closer to securing home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
Daniel Nava and David Ortiz hit three-run homers for Boston, which opened an 8-0 lead by the third inning. Jarrod Saltalamacchia had a three-run drive overturned in a video review.
Dustin Pedroia had three hits for the Red Sox, who would clinch the AL’s best record with another win or a loss by Oakland, which played Seattle later Friday.
Chris Davis hit his major league-leading 53rd homer in the sixth.
Given a big lead before his first pitch, Buchholz (12-1) rebounded from a loss to Toronto last weekend. Adam Jones hit a two-run homer in the third, the first home run by a right-handed hitter off Buchholz this year.
ROYALS 6, WHITE SOX 1
CHICAGO — James Shields struck out 10 and scattered four hits over seven innings for his 100th career win, and Kansas City’s victory ensured Chicago its worst record since 1970.
At 62-98 with two games remaining, the White Sox will finish with the second-most losses in franchise history, only ahead of the team that went 56-106 more than four decades ago.
The White Sox will finish last in their division for the first time since 1989 (69-92).
Billy Butler led the Royals with three hits and two RBIs, while Emilio Bonifacio drove in two runs with two hits.
The Royals’ 85th win is their most since 1989 when they were 92-70.
Wild Card Glance
All Hawaii times
W L Pct WCGB
Cleveland 90 70 .563 —
Tampa Bay 90 70 .563 —
Texas 89 71 .556 1
W L Pct WCGB
z-Pittsburgh 92 68 .575 —
z-Cincinnati 90 70 .563 —
z-clinched playoff berth
Toronto 6, Tampa Bay 3
Texas 5, L.A. Angels 3
Cleveland 12, Minnesota 6
L.A. Angels at Texas, 6:05 a.m.
Cleveland at Minnesota, 7:05 a.m.
Tampa Bay at Toronto, 7:07 a.m.
Pittsburgh 4, Cincinnati 1
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati, 7:05 a.m.