ST. LOUIS — The final day of the regular season was doubly pleasing to St. Louis Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan. His team won its first NL ERA title since 1969 and his son, Chris, hit the winning home run.
“I’m proud of them both,” Duncan said after the Cardinals posted their 100th victory by rallying past Cincinnati 7-5 Sunday in the last regular-season game at Busch Stadium. “A lot of work goes into winning an ERA title, these guys have to really put their nose to the grindstone and be consistent.
“But I also know a lot of hard work has gone into Chris’ career.”
Reggie Sanders warmed up for the postseason with a home run and double for the NL Central champions, who will begin the best-of-five playoffs Tuesday at home against NL West champion San Diego. The Padres won the season series 4-3.
“I know the stories that some people want to write, which is the team with the worst record beats the team with the best record,” manager Tony La Russa said. “But during the season they played us very tough.”
The Cardinals swept the three-game series to reach the century mark in wins for consecutive years for the second time in franchise history and first time since 1942-44. It’s the fourth 100-win season for La Russa, who did it twice with the Oakland Athletics.
The Cardinals finished 1,760-1,409 in regular-season games at Busch, which opened May 12, 1966. This has been their best decade in the stadium with a 307-180 record.
St. Louis overcame a fourth straight mediocre outing by its starting pitcher, this one by Matt Morris, and came back from a 5-1 third-inning deficit. The Cardinals used eight relievers, tying a major league record for a nine-inning game.
One of the relievers, Al Reyes, left with a sprained right elbow and his availability for the playoffs is in doubt.
“I’m pretty concerned,” Dave Duncan said. “It sounds to me like the trainers and doctors are concerned, so naturally I’m concerned about it.”
Sanders’ 21st home run came in the sixth off Brandon Claussen (10-11) and gave him 10 RBIs in the past six games and tied the score.
“No disrespect, I don’t want to jinx myself,” Sanders said. “So I’m going to leave that one alone.”
The next batter, Duncan, hit his first career homer to give the Cardinals a 6-5 lead. Dave Duncan led the welcoming committee in the dugout.
“He had a big grin on his face when I came in,” Chris Duncan said. “It was pretty neat. It was a rush.”
A sellout crowd of 50,434, the largest of the season, gave the Cardinals a franchise record 3,538,988 in attendance, with only 357 no-shows. They finished third in the majors behind the Yankees and Dodgers.
Felipe Lopez, Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns hit consecutive home runs leading off the third for the Reds, who lost seven of their past eight and finished at 73-89, fifth place in the Central.
“We just kind of stopped after that,” Ryan Freel said. “That’s been our story a lot of the year.”
As a consolation prize, the Reds hit 222 home runs to break the franchise record of 221 set in 1956.
“You win games with pitching,” Reds manager Jerry Narron said. “It’s nice to score a lot of runs ... but this game is all about pitching and defense.”
Morris, the longest tenured Cardinal, who has been with the team since 1997, gave up five runs on eight hits in only three innings in his 128th appearance at Busch. Morris, who began the season 10-1 and finished 14-10 with a 4.11 ERA, is the likely starter for Game 3 of the division series against the Padres.
Morris was relieved that the Cardinals won the ERA title in spite of him.
“Did we?” he said. “I was afraid to ask.”
Jason Isringhausen worked the ninth for his 39th save in 43 chances. Brad Thompson (4-0) worked a perfect fifth.
Consecutive doubles by Austin Kearns and Jose Valentin produced the game’s first run in the second and Lopez, Dunn and Kearns connected in a span of six pitches in the third to put the Reds ahead 5-1.
Sanders doubled and scored on Mark Grudzielanek’s infield hit off the second-base bag in the bottom of the second, the Cardinals got five straight singles in a three-run fourth that cut the gap to a run.
David Eckstein’s RBI single in the seventh off Josh Hancock put the Cardinals ahead 7-5.