The St. Louis Cardinals missed their first chance to win the NL Central. Now, they can clinch it on Thursday without even stepping on the diamond.
Houston rookie Bud Norris shut out St. Louis for the second time and the Astros delayed the Cardinals' division championship celebration for at least another day with a 3-0 win on Wednesday night.
The magic number for St. Louis dropped to one when the Cubs lost in Milwaukee before this game ended. But Norris (6-3) pitched six shutout innings and Jose Valverde tossed a scoreless ninth for his 24th save.
"They are one win away from clinching this thing, but we definitely wanted to give them a fight," Norris said. "I think we did."
The Astros ended the fourth and sixth innings with double plays as the Cardinals continued to have problems with Norris. The right-hander won his major league debut in St. Louis on Aug. 2, allowing two hits in seven shutout innings.
St. Louis can clinch from its hotel in Colorado on Thursday, a day off, if the Cubs lose the opener of a weekend series in San Francisco.
The Cardinals had 25 cases of champagne waiting in the visiting clubhouse at Minute Maid Park and the unopened bottles will travel with the team to Denver.
St. Louis manager Tony La Russa would've rather uncorked them in Houston.
"We had a chance to have a perfect night," he said. "When you don't do it, it's disappointing."
The Cardinals open a series against the Rockies on Friday and are trying to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
Albert Pujols called the division title a minor step toward the team's main pursuit.
"We can be all happy and excited about clinching and making the playoffs, but our main goal is to get to the World Series," Pujols said. "That's just one step we take, almost like a baby step. You have to crawl before you can start walking. We're crawling right now."
Carlos Lee drove in two runs for the Astros, who snapped a nine-game losing streak. Houston also earned the first win for interim manager Dave Clark, who replaced the fired Cecil Cooper on Monday.
"It's awesome," Clark said. "The guys came out and were ready to go. They did not want them to celebrate here, especially after the Cubs lost. We just went out there, played good baseball got the lead and was able to hold onto it."
Brewers 3, Cubs 2
At Milwaukee, Prince Fielder hit his 42nd homer to give him a majors-best 131 RBIs and rookie Chris Narveson struck out 10 for his first win as a starter.
Narveson (2-0) was designated for assignment by the Brewers in July but returned last month and was sharp into the sixth inning in his third career start. Narveson's only mistake came when Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija (1-3) led off the sixth inning with a homer, his first career hit.
Padres 6, Rockies 3
At Denver, Will Venable homered and tied a career high by driving in four runs and the Padres ended Colorado's eight-game home winning streak.
The Rockies' lead in the NL wild-card race was whittled to four games over Atlanta and San Francisco.
Venable hit a solo homer and added a three-run double off Jason Marquis (15-12), who failed for the third time to win his career-best 16th game.
Marlins 7, Phillies 6
At Miami, pinch-hitter Brett Carroll capped a two-run rally with an RBI single off Phillies closer Brad Lidge in the ninth inning.
Jorge Cantu tied it with a single off Lidge (0-8), who blew his major league-leading 11th save.
Ryan Howard doubled, homered and drove in four runs for the Phillies, whose magic number to clinch the NL East remained at five.
Nationals 5, Dodgers 4
At Washington, Andre Ethier booted pinch-hitter Pete Orr's fly ball to right field in the ninth inning, allowing Justin Maxwell to score as Washington avoided its 100th loss.
The Dodgers' magic number to clinch a spot in the postseason remained at two, but its magic number to clinch a second straight NL West title, a feat they last accomplished in 1977-78, dropped to six with Colorado's loss.
Braves 5, Mets 2
At New York, Tim Hudson pitched six effective innings for his second win since major elbow surgery and Atlanta completed a three-game sweep.
Hours after announcing Bobby Cox will retire as manager following next season, the Braves won for the 11th time in 13 games.
Hudson (2-1) allowed nine hits and two walks in his fifth start since coming back from elbow ligament replacement surgery performed in August 2008.
Reds 12, Pirates 2
At Pittsburgh, Joey Votto went 4 for 5 and scored three runs, and Homer Bailey allowed two runs in six innings.
Brandon Phillips, Scott Rolen, Jay Bruce, Laynce Nix and Corky Miller all had two RBIs for the Reds, who have won seven of nine.
The Pirates have lost five straight and are 3-22 in their past 25 games.
Giants 5, Diamondbacks 2
At Phoenix, Juan Uribe hit a two-run homer and drove in three runs and San Francisco's bullpen backed Jonathan Sanchez (7-12) with 3 2-3 innings of scoreless relief.
Arizona has lost four of its last five and 14 of 19.