HOUSTON (AP) - The Houston Astros endured one final humiliation at the end of the worst season in franchise history, watching the St. Louis Cardinals celebrate a victory that earned them a playoff berth.
Chris Carpenter struck out 11 and allowed two hits in his 15th career complete-game shutout as St. Louis kept up its improbable September charge by beating the Astros 8-0 on Wednesday night.
St. Louis clinched the NL wild card after Atlanta fell to Philadelphia 4-3 in 13 innings. The Cardinals and Braves began the day even in the wild card race.
While the Cardinals rushed into their clubhouse to watch the end of the game in Atlanta, the Astros began preparing for the offseason after their 106th loss.
Houston had never lost more than 97 games in a season, and hadn't reached that low mark since 1997. With ownership in flux, the team dealt away recognized stars Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn, turned the season over to prospects and finished with the youngest roster in baseball.
``It's a work in progress, and it's going to continue to be a work in progress,' Houston manager Brad Mills said. ``We were able to see a lot of progress in a lot of guys. We've had a lot of turnover this year, both position-wise and pitching-wise. You're going to have some stuff that's not going to go as good as you'd like.'
The Astros hardly put up a fight in the finale against Carpenter (11-9), who was in total command from the start, striking out five of the first nine hitters he faced.
Atlanta's game started an hour earlier, but the Cardinals virtually took away any hope for a Houston victory in the first inning of their contest, jumping to a 5-0 lead against Brett Myers (7-14).
Albert Pujols and Lance Berkman drove in runs with singles, and David Freese doubled to left-center before Myers even recorded an out. Berkman scored when Skip Schumaker's hard grounder ricocheted off Myers' glove for an infield hit, and Freese came home on Nick Punto's single to right.
``I really wanted to win,' Myers said. ``I really wanted to go out there and put them out. It didn't work out.'
Freese led off the fifth with a double to right center, the Cardinals' 10th hit of the game. Myers, 4-0 with a 1.24 ERA in his last five starts, hadn't allowed more than nine hits in a start since Aug. 6.
Freese later scored on Schumaker's groundout to shortstop Clint Barmes for a 7-0 lead, equaling the most runs given up by Myers in 33 starts this season. Wilton Lopez replaced Myers for the start of the sixth.
``I feel like I made pretty good pitches,' Myers said, ``but they were getting hits.'
As the Astros batted in the seventh, the left-field scoreboard posted a 3-3 tie in the Phillies-Braves game, prompting a roar from the large contingent of Cardinals' fans in the stands behind the St. Louis dugout.
Carpenter then struck out Bogusevic and Jimmy Paredes to wrap up another easy inning. Allen Craig hit a solo homer in the ninth off Lance Pendleton.
The Astros were grasping for positives
``Overall, we never gave up this year,' said Barmes, who will become a free agent. ``That's one thing you can say about this whole group. We've got a lot of young guys, we made a lot of young mistakes, a lot of mistakes in general.
``Every day, we showed up and we had a chance to win just about every day,' he said. ``I think that says a lot about this team.
NOTES: The sparse crowd offered a standing ovation to Astros owner Drayton McLane after a video tribute was shown on the giant scoreboard between the second and third innings. McLane is still waiting for Major League Baseball to approve his sale of the team to Houston businessman Jim Crane for $680 million. General manager Ed Wade said before Wednesday's game that McLane still has the final say on all baseball decisions. ... St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said LF Matt Holliday (right hand injury) and SS Rafael Furcal (left hamstring) were unavailable on Wednesday night. ... Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan rejoined the team after missing more than a month to tend to his ailing wife. Jeanine Duncan is recovering from surgery on Aug. 21 to remove a brain tumor. Dave Duncan, manager Tony La Russa's trusted assistant since the early 1980s, did not know how long he would be able to stay with the club because his wife has more medical appointments scheduled.
The Associated Press News Service
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