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Phillies move closer to clinching NL East

Saturday, September 27, 2008

By The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA -- Ryan Howard hit his major league-leading 48th homer, Joe Blanton pitched six effective innings and the Philadelphia Phillies moved closer to clinching the NL East title with an 8-4 victory over the Washington Nationals on Friday night.

The Phillies' magic number for winning their second straight division championship was reduced to one after the New York Mets lost 6-1 to the Florida Marlins.

Chase Utley had a three-run double and Howard drove in four runs as Philadelphia built a 7-1 lead off Collin Balester (3-7).

The Nationals chipped away against Blanton (4-0), but four relievers combined to toss three scoreless innings.

The Phillies reached 90 wins for the 12th time in the franchise's 126-year history. They hadn't done it since winning 97 games in 1993.

Marlins 6, Mets 1

NEW YORK (AP) -- The Mets' offense fizzled and Mike Pelfrey lost to Florida for the fourth time this season, putting New York's postseason chances in peril.

Josh Willingham homered and Hanley Ramirez had four hits for the Marlins, who knocked New York out of the playoff race on the final weekend last season.

The Mets fell two games behind first-place Philadelphia, which beat Washington 8-4. They will send ace Johan Santana to the mound Saturday on three days' rest. New York also fell a game behind Milwaukee in the wild-card race.

Pelfrey (13-11) allowed three runs and eight hits in six innings, falling to 0-4 in five starts against Florida this year.

Chris Volstad (6-4) yielded just an unearned run in six innings for Florida. Ramirez scored three times and stole two bases.

Brewers 5, Cubs 1

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Rickie Weeks hit a three-run homer, Seth McClung pitched four scoreless innings in relief and the Brewers rallied to beat the Cubs for their fifth straight win and the lead in the NL wild-card race.

Weeks, who has been relegated to a bench role but replaced Ray Durham after the sixth, drove reliever Chad Gaudin's pitch deep to left field, flipping his bat as his shot cleared the wall to score McClung and Mike Cameron.

The win eliminated the Astros even though Houston beat Atlanta.

With the game tied at 1 in the sixth, Cubs reliever Sean Marshall (3-5) allowed a leadoff double to Durham and walked Ryan Braun before striking out Prince Fielder. Jeff Samardzija came in and got J.J. Hardy to pop up for the second out, but Corey Hart flared a go-ahead RBI single to left.

Brewers starter Jeff Suppan allowed eight hits and a walk over five innings. McClung (6-6) did the rest, striking out six and retiring 10 of the final 11 Cubs.

Astros 5, Braves 4

HOUSTON (AP) -- Pinch-hitter Darin Erstad hit a game-ending home run in the ninth inning to lift Houston to a win over Atlanta, but the Astros were still eliminated from playoff contention.

Houston entered 3 1/2 games back of the New York Mets and Milwaukee in the NL wild-card chase and were eliminated when the Brewers beat the Cubs.

Erstad's third career game-winning homer bailed out closer Jose Valverde (6-3), who gave up the tying run in the top of the ninth. Julian Tavarez (1-4) retired Humberto Quintero in the bottom half before Erstad homered to right on the first pitch he saw.

Michael Bourn had three hits and Ty Wigginton homered for Houston.

Josh Anderson had three hits for Atlanta.

Cardinals 7, Reds 6

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Troy Glaus drove in the winning run with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the ninth inning and Albert Pujols homered and had three hits to run his streak to seven straight hits over three games.

Javier Valentin's sixth career pinch homer, a two-run shot off Ryan Franklin (6-6) with two outs in the ninth, tied it at 6. Reds pinch hitters were 3-for-3 in the ninth while handing the Cardinals their 31st blown save, tied with the Mariners for the most in the majors.

Felipe Lopez singled off Bill Bray (2-2) for his third hit with one out in the 10th, Pujols walked and Mike Lincoln hit Ryan Ludwick on a 1-2 pitch before Glaus hit a towering drive to medium center, scoring Lopez easily.

Pujols' 36th homer in the fifth was a massive drive well over the visitor's bullpen in left field. He also singled twice and walked twice to raise his average four points to .357 in a late, longshot bid for his second batting title. He's eight points behind the Braves' Chipper Jones (.365).

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