PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies clinched the National League East on Saturday and sprayed champagne in a celebratory clubhouse. It came at the expense of the Cardinals, in the process dealing a blow to the Redbirds' postseason hopes.
In an obviously more somber Cardinals clubhouse, they talked about how they are still playing very good baseball -- but at this point in the schedule, every loss seems large and heavy.
A late rally fell short, then Saturday's game got away, and St. Louis' long shot at the playoffs got a little longer in a 9-2 loss. With the Braves' win earlier in the day, the Cardinals fell 4 1/2 games back in the Wild Card race. With 11 games remaining in the regular season, the Redbirds (82-59) need a lot of luck.
"I thought that was a hellacious effort," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "We dodged a lot of bullets early, and we made it a game. We played with a lot of urgency, bringing [Arthur] Rhodes into the game in the fourth inning. We made it 3-2 in the eighth. It looked ugly, but the score was misleading."
The Cardinals almost wrestled the game away from the Phillies (98-52) after being on the ropes early. Jake Westbrook was coming off a win over Atlanta and in his career has been solid in September -- his career 3.55 ERA is his best mark in any month. But he never quite settled in Saturday.
Westbrook allowed the leadoff batter to reach base in every inning and in all put 10 runners on base. Westbrook walked five batters in 3 1/3 innings. He gave up five hits and two runs (one earned), falling to 12-9.
"I kept putting myself in bad situations early in every inning," Westbrook said. "I was not putting myself in good position to have a quick inning. I felt like I was battling the entire night. I felt like I had good stuff, but I wasn't able to locate and control counts. With that lineup, you don't want to be battling from the get-go."
Phillies starter Roy Oswalt, on the other hand, was terrific. He allowed five hits and no walks, striking out seven in seven innings. While he's had plenty of success against the Cardinals over the course of his career, this was his first win against them since Aug. 29, 2007. He was 0-4 with a 4.50 ERA in his previous eight starts against St. Louis.
"Oswalt pitched very well," La Russa said. "We've seen that so many times over the years, that's about what you'd expect."
The Cardinals made their stand in the eighth, when Oswalt was replaced by Michael Stutes. With two outs, Jon Jay singled to center and Albert Pujols singled to left. Lance Berkman singled to left to score the Cardinals' first run, and David Freese singled to make it 3-2. But Brad Lidge came on to get Allen Craig on a grounder to end the inning.
"We had them worried," La Russa said.
Westbrook allowed two runners to reach in the first before one came home on a double. He loaded the bases in the third but escaped. Westbrook walked in a run after loading the bases in the fourth before Rhodes came on to end the threat. Shane Victorino homered off Kyle McClellan in the sixth to make it 3-0.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Cardinals let the game get away. The inning began with an error by Dan Descalso and then got, in La Russa's words, "weird." Victorino hit a one-out single through a drawn-in infield to score one run. Marc Rzepczynski fanned Ryan Howard but hit Chase Utley to load the bases. Hunter Pence singled to shortstop against Octavio Dotel to score another. Rafael Furcal double-pumped on the play, as if he planned to throw to second for the force, but Utley reached the bag too quickly, so Furcal tried for Pence at first. Pence beat the throw in a close play.
Raul Ibanez followed with a grand slam to right to make it 9-2.
"We had some chances," Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina said. "They played a good game. They did a good job."
Kevin Roberts is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.