Cardinals claim NL wild card as Braves crash

(Reuters) - The St Louis Cardinals completed their rousing late-season charge by claiming the National League's wild card berth for the Major League Baseball (MLB) playoffs on Wednesday.

The Cardinals sealed their spot by beating the Houston Astros 8-0 while the Atlanta Braves blew a ninth-inning lead before losing 4-3 to the Philadelphia Phillies in 13 innings.

The Braves and Cardinals began the last day of the 162-game regular season tied with records of 89-72.

If they had remained level, the two clubs would have contested a one-game playoff in St Louis on Thursday to determine who would advance.

The Cardinals, who chased down the fading Braves with a hot September, exploded for five runs in the first inning against the Astros and rolled from there as starter Chris Carpenter threw a two-hit shutout.

Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman and David Freese supplied run-scoring hits in the first inning to provide all the cushion Carpenter would need.

"He was sharp," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said about his right-hander as his players celebrated with a champagne-spraying party in the visiting locker room in Houston after watching the end of the Braves-Phillies game.

"I think he missed his target maybe two or three times with all his different pitches. He was a surgeon. He just cut them up."

The Cardinals rejoiced after the agonizing defeat for the Braves, who had led the wild card race by 8 games in the first week of September.

A two-run home run by Dan Uggla put Atlanta in front and the Braves carried a 3-2 lead into the ninth inning against the Major League-leading Phillies.

Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, however, had control problems.

After a single by Placido Polanco, Kimbrel walked two batters and then yielded a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to Chase Utley that tied the game and sent it to extra innings.

Philadelphia scored the winning run on a bloop single by Hunter Pence in the 13th off reliever Scott Linebrink that scored backup catcher Brian Schneider with the winning run.

Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday said it was hard to watch the finish of the tense Braves-Phillies game on television.

"It was nerve racking, but I appreciate the way the Phillies played," Holliday said. "They played it all the way through, they played really hard."

Atlanta lost 13 of their last 18 games in their September collapse, including the last five of the season.

"It's definitely disappointing," Uggla told reporters. "We played our butts off the whole month. It just wasn't in the cards for us.

"We're going home now. It's not going to sit well with any of us."

(Reporting by Larry Fine, Editing by John O'Brien; To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)