Phillies clinch 4th consecutive NL East title

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Ryan Howard is a veteran when it comes to clubhouse celebrations.

So the Philadelphia Phillies' slugging first baseman was well-prepared this time around, holding a smoldering cigar in his right hand and a tall can of beer in his left — and sporting a wide set of ski goggles to protect his eyes from the sting of champagne showers.

Howard also knows a fourth consecutive NL East title is not the end-all and be-all for these Phillies, who won the 2008 World Series and lost to the New York Yankees in the 2009 edition.

"If you're not here to try to win a championship, you're here for the wrong reasons," said Howard, the 2006 NL MVP. "We feel like we kind of have some unfinished business and have taken the first step to ... trying to right that ship."

At 94-63 with five games remaining, Philadelphia clinched its division and assured itself of home-field advantage throughout the postseason — the NL won the All-Star Game, remember — by beating the last-place Washington Nationals 8-0 Monday night behind Roy Halladay's two-hitter and Jayson Werth's four RBIs.

"That's the reason you want to come to a team like this. They know how to do it," said Halladay, who earned his 21st win with his fourth shutout and ninth complete game, all highs in the majors this season. "It's the coolest thing I've been a part of. It's just the start, I think."

That was a prevailing theme as the Phillies engaged in the usual beverage-spraying hijinks: This is great, but we want more.

"There's a bigger picture here," said Werth, who hit his 26th homer and added a single and double. "Now we can put this behind us after we celebrate this tonight. We've got a long way to go. We've got a long road. We know where we want to be. We know what happened last year; we haven't forgot it. We know what's at stake, and we're looking forward to it."

Halladay (21-10) will be on the big stage of the playoffs for the first time in his 13th major league season, having played his entire career with the Toronto Blue Jays before being traded to Philadelphia last winter.

When the Phillies gathered in the visiting clubhouse at Nationals Park, they let Halladay, backup catcher Brian Schneider and bench player Mike Sweeney pop the first champagne corks — three veterans who never before have been postseason participants.

"I'll never forget that," said Schneider, who used to play for the Nationals. "They waited for us. ... They thought of us and that was awesome."

Halladay recalled watching other teams' celebrations on TV in the past. Now he finally got to take part. He even made a rookie mistake, leaving a set of goggles perched atop the brim of his cap, instead of pulling them down over his eyes.

He hunched over and scrunched up his face when Werth dumped a full bottle of bubbly over him.

"It was very special to have him go out and finish the game," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said about Halladay. "I know he wanted to be out there."

And it seemed fitting that Halladay would be on the mound for the out that clinched the team's latest division title. Normally rather stoic out there, the 2003 AL Cy Young Award winner punched his glove with his pitching hand after striking out a swinging Danny Espinosa to end the game.

Halladay instantly broke into a big smile, and the Phillies gathered in the middle of the diamond for hugs and high-fives. Thousands of red-clad, white-towel-waving Phillies fans in the announced crowd of 14,309 gave a standing ovation then began their last in a long series of chants of "Let's go, Phillies!"

Unlike previous years, when they counted on a potent offense, the Phillies relied on outstanding pitching in 2010. Led by Halladay, 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt — picked up from Houston in a trade-deadline deal — the starting rotation dominated, especially in September.

What a stretch run: Philadelphia is 20-5 this month, its most wins in September since compiling 22 in 1983.

And the Phillies have gone 46-17 since July 21, when they trailed Atlanta by seven games. Eight days later, they got Oswalt, forming as fearsome a threesome of starters as there is in the majors.

Looking to become the first team in 66 years to win three consecutive National League championships, the Phillies started this season strong, before injuries and an inconsistent offense took a toll. Six of Philadelphia's eight regulars spent time on the disabled list, and nearly all saw their production decline. At one point, Howard, Chase Utley, and Shane Victorino were absent during a nearly two-week stretch in August.

But the Phillies managed to overtake the Braves and continue their recent run of success.

"For years, to win the division, you had to go through Atlanta," Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said. "Now you've got to go through Philadelphia."

His team is all-too-familiar with that: The Phillies wrapped things up with late-season victories over the Nationals in 2007 and 2008, too.

Another division title won and celebrated, now Howard, Halladay and the rest of the 2010 Philadelphia Phillies can move on to other goals.

"To do what we've done the last four years here is a great accomplishment, and we're well aware," Werth said, soaking wet from head to toe. "But there's bigger things at stake, and we know where we want to end up."


AP Sports Writers Dan Gelston and Rob Maaddi in Philadelphia contributed to this report.