D-backs defeat in St. Louis gives Dodgers NL West title

ST. LOUIS -- The Los Angeles Dodgers clinched their first NL West title since 2004 before taking the field, thanks to three straight disappointing losses by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Arizona was only two games out with six games to play. The defending division champions bowed out quietly in a 12-3 rout by the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday.

"It was just disgusting," Conor Jackson said. "It was embarrassing. You can't pitch, you can't hit, you can't win games."

Arizona (79-80) led the division by 4½ games before play on Aug. 29, then lost 11 of 14 as the Dodgers took control of the division. The Diamondbacks had rebounded by winning seven of eight to put the heat on the Dodgers, but began to fade Tuesday when the Cardinals scored four runs in the first inning off Randy Johnson in a 7-4 final.

"They hit a hot stretch, and we hit a cold stretch. Put that together and you get the Dodgers jumping around right now," Chris Snyder said.

In Los Angeles, Manny Ramirez found out the team officially qualified for the playoffs from a reporter after he entered an elevator to the team's clubhouse with teammate Pablo Ozuna about an hour after the Diamondbacks lost.

"It's good, but it's just the first step," said Ramirez, who has played so well since joining the Dodgers less than two months ago that there's been MVP talk. "We're happy, but we're not going to go crazy about it. The goal is to go to the big dance, the World Series. This is not a championship yet."

Dodgers manager Joe Torre guided the New York Yankees to four World Series titles and 12 playoff appearances in as many years before leaving the team last fall. He was then hired by the Dodgers, signing a three-year $13 million contract.

Torre said he received a text message of congratulations from Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin.

"He's a class act," Torre said, adding that Yankees general manager Brian Cashman called as well to offer his best wishes.

Torre gave credit to his players for winning the division.

"Anytime a manager thinks that he's responsible for something that players do, he's a little deluded," the 68-year-old skipper said. "I just try to get everybody thinking and going in the same direction and being on the same page. That's my job, trying to put out fires here and there. My job is to keep people focused.

"I never envisioned myself at 67, 68 years old going somewhere new to start over -- and I'm glad I did it. I'm very proud of this team. Going to the playoffs never gets old."

Torre said he watched the final inning of the Diamondbacks' loss in his office with his wife, general manager Ned Colletti and Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt.

"I'm relieved and ecstatic at the same time," Colletti said. "I'm proud of the team, proud of what they've gone through this year and how they came together the last four or five weeks. They fought through a lot of adversity."

Casey Blake and Nomar Garciaparra were among several players in the clubhouse when the Diamondbacks' game ended, more than 4½ hours before the Dodgers' suddenly meaningless game against the Padres began.

"It feels outstanding," said Blake, another midseason acquisition. "You get brought over to do a job. It looked pretty bleak there for a while. We turned it around."

About clinching the title without playing, Blake said: "However it happened, we'll take it."

Albert Pujols hit a three-run homer and finished with four RBIs to back Joel Pineiro (7-7), who allowed three runs and three hits over seven innings on his 30th birthday. St. Louis had been eliminated from postseason contention on Tuesday.

"You had an obligation to play like we've been playing all year," manager Tony La Russa said. "It's not enjoyable at all, but you have to compete."

Arizona third baseman Mark Reynolds set a major league record with two more strikeouts, raising his season total to 201. Philadelphia's Ryan Howard set the previous mark of 199 last year -- and Howard began the day with 196 this season.

"It's obviously something I have to work on for next year," said Reynolds, finishing his first full year in the majors. "Of course, it's not the greatest of records to have, but you move on. A lot of young guys struggle."

Reynolds has 34 errors and could become the first player to lead the majors in errors and strikeouts since Minnesota Twins shortstop Zoilo Versalles (122 strikeouts, 39 errors) during his 1965 AL MVP season. He's having a nice year even with the strikeouts with 28 homers and 96 RBIs, although he's batting .240.

The Diamondbacks led by as many as 6½ games in April while going 20-8. The rest of the season, they've struggled for consistency.

"Obviously, it hasn't been the type of year we expected," Melvin said. "After the first month we couldn't put together any kind of an extended period that resembled the team that played in the first month.

"The expectations get raised and you don't follow through."

Pujols (35) and Ryan Ludwick (36) hit consecutive homers in a five-run seventh that opened an 11-3 lead. Troy Glaus walked four times to match his career high, and Felipe Lopez had three hits and two RBIs.

La Russa endorsed Pujols for the NL MVP earlier this week, adding he didn't think anyone else was close.

"Whatever he ends up with, he's had a monster season," La Russa said.

Pineiro matched his season best with seven strikeouts after going 0-2 with an 8.40 ERA in three previous September starts.

"It's a nice way to go out," Pineiro said. "You kind of wish you had more starts like that early in the year to try to help the team out a lot better."

St. Louis had 17 hits and nine walks against Doug Davis (6-9) and five relievers. The three-game winning streak follows a slide of 10 losses in 12 games that knocked them out of the Central race.

Game notes
Pineiro struck out twice and sacrificed, leaving him 5-for-51 (.098) at the plate with 35 strikeouts. He had three doubles and four RBIs. ... Glaus' four-walk game was the second of his career, the first since June 9, 2001, against the Dodgers. ... The Cardinals have hit back-to-back homers six times this year, the last two times off Yusmeiro Petit. Yadier Molina and Lopez connected off the right-hander on Sept. 2 in Arizona. ... SS Cesar Izturis was 9-for-13 in the series and finished 13-for-25 (.520) against the Diamondbacks, and Lopez was 16-for-31 (.516). ... Melvin said Chad Qualls, the Diamondbacks' closer the last few weeks, would begin spring training in that role.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.