ST. LOUIS (AP) — Lance Lynn was one of the more enthusiastic participants as the St. Louis Cardinals sprayed champagne, showing a wide smile he could not contain.
“It’s a good feeling,” Lynn said the Cardinals clinched their first NL Central title in four seasons with a 7-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs. “It’s a good time to have that feeling.”
Lynn had six strikeouts in a row early, and David Freese and Matt Holliday hit early home runs.
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.
“I think relentless is probably the term that might sum it up,” said second-year manager Mike Matheny, soaked like everybody else on the team. “It’s extremely special.”
The Cardinals have made it to the postseason 11 times the last 18 seasons under the ownership group led by chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. A large group of rookies was mixed in with a veteran core, and they overcame injuries to Chris Carpenter, Jason Motte, Jaime Garcia and Rafael Furcal.
“I’ll sacrifice any of my clothes, anything for this,” DeWitt said. “It’s extremely satisfying. Think of the players we had to bring up and some of the great years we had.”
Adam Wainwright (18-9) was moved up to start Saturday, putting the St. Louis ace on track to start his team’s postseason opener against Cincinnati, Pittsburgh or the Los Angeles Dodgers.
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.”
“We’re all embracing this and understanding what we’ve accomplished,” Freese said. “We’ve been through so much.”
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.
“I’ve already said it,” Sveum said. “You get something out of it.”
Lynn (15-10) began his strikeout streak 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.
Cubs 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 his 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.
“That was a shame,” manager Dale Sveum said. “That kind of made you want to throw up, to have two out, nobody on and all of that happen.”
After Wood’s running catch in foul territory on Carlos Beltran’s foul pop, 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.
“That’s on me,” Wood said. “When you get two outs and you still face all nine, that’s on you.”
Holliday hit his 250th career homer and 21st this season leading off the sixth off Blake Parker.
NOTES: Both benches were warned in the sixth after Lynn’s high fastball struck Navarro on an arm. … Lynn’s strikeout run was the Cardinals’ longest since 2009, when John Smoltz fanned seven Padres in a row in his St. Louis debut. … Edwin Jackson (8-17, 4.74) is the Cubs starter Saturday. … Cardinals cleanup man Allen Craig (left mid-foot sprain) was ruled out for the NL division series. … Wood and Jeff Samardzija are among three NL duos with 200 innings apiece and are the Cubs’ first since Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly in 2008. … Molina is batting .437 against the Cubs (21 for 48) with a team-high 13 RBIs. … The Cubs are 12-74 when allowing four runs or more.