PHOENIX • The Cardinals ended their 2014 regular season the same way they began -- with a 1-0 shutout -- and though they took a different and hardly direct route to get from Game 1 to Game 162, they did end where they expected to all along.
The strangely prescient shutout score that opened the year in Cincinnati closed the regular season at Chase Field, as a parade of Cardinals starters carried the team to a 1-0 win against host Arizona. Pete Kozma's double and his run scored on a groundout was the only run of a brisk game that was played more like a spring training game than a regular season game.
The Cardinals had clinched their second consecutive division title earlier in the day when the Reds defeated the Pirates. The Pirates' loss minutes before the Cardinals took the field Sunday allowed manager Mike Matheny to completely rewrite his lineup. Starter Adam Wainwright was out. Nick Greenwood raced to get warm to go in. Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, Matt Carpenter, Jhonny Peralta and other regulars were out. Rookies and callups and prospects and backups were in.
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The Cardinals managed only three hits in the game and all of then came from the hitter that led off the inning.
A subdued celebration happned on the field with the team rushing out after Carlos Martinez finished the 1-0 win. Martinez got his first save of the season.
The Cardinals win their second consecutive division title and returned home Sunday night to St. Louis to ready for the playoffs.
Adam Wainwright will start Game 1 of the National League division series at Dodger Stadium against the hosts there on Friday. The best-of-five series will move to Busch Stadium a week from Monday.
Kozma's double leads to 1-0 lead
A funny thing happened on the way to the Cardinals' coronation as National League Central division champions.
A spring training game broke out.
A brisk game with a lot of early-swings and very little scoring has raced into the bottom of the sixth inning with the Cardinals now leading 1-0. Pete Kozma doubled to lead off the sixth inning. All three of the Cardinals' hits have come to lead off an inning. Kozma's was the first that became a run as he took third on a groundout and scored on Kolten Wong's RBI groundout.
That was Wong's final swing of the regular season.
Players have been removed from the game -- especially the regulars -- throughout the afternoon here. Neither team has had protracted at-bats. It feels a lot like a Grapefruit League getaway game where there is a mutual understanding of getting the game over with swiftly. At one point in the game, the entire Diamondbacks dugout came out during the middle of the inning to applaud the fans here.
Nick Greenwood pitched three scoreless innings. Justin Masterson appeared to handle the next two. Kevin Siegrist has relieved Masterson.
Wainwright yanked from start
On fourth thought, maybe Adam Wainwright won't start.
Less than 90 minutes after stressing to both the media and officials in the press box that regardless of the outcome in Cincinnati Adam Wainwright would start this afternoon's game at Chase Field, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny rethought that position. Or intended to change that fact all along. It's not clear because he was quite emphatic about Wainwright starting no matter what, no matter what.
And now Wainwright isn't starting.
Nick Greenwood trotted out to the bullpen shortly before game time this afternoon. Wainwright abruptly stopped his warmup, hugged the coaches, and then went back to the dugout with catcher Yadier Molina. He saluted the fans as he walked to the dugout -- ready to watch the game.
Matheny had offered many detailed reasons for sticking with Wainwright no matter. He said the long layoff between starts was not ideal. Wainwright will go 11 days between appearing in games when he opens the National League division series against LA's Clayton Kershaw on Friday. This was a layoff Matheny said he wanted to avoid.
Until he didn't.
Wainwright will not get a crack at win No. 21 on the same day that several other contenders to be runnerup in the Cy Young Award dominated. Johnny Cueto's 20th win of the season helped the Cardinals clinch. Jordan Zimmermann threw a no-hitter for Washington.
Wainwright was not alone in being yanked from the lineup. Wholesale changes followed the Reds' victory with all of the regulars except Randal Grichuk and Matt Adams leaving the lineup.
The new lineup:
1. Wong, 2B
2. Grichuk, LF
3. Taveras, RF
4. Adams, 1B
5. Descalso, 3B
6. Cruz, C
7. Bourjos, CF
8. Kozma, SS
9. Greenwood, P
This portends to be a quick game now with the Cardinals swinging early and trying to get the champagne going and the flight off to St. Louis.
Cueto quiets Pirates, pitches Cards to division title
There's no telling what the reaction was like in the Cardinals clubhouse when Johnny Cueto came up to hit for himself with the go-ahead run on third base and one out in the bottom of the eighth inning. If it was anything like the neighborhood pub, your living room, or the press box, it was a communal, "Whaaaaaat?"
That would have quickly turned to cheers in the Cardinals clubhouse.
Cueto broke a 1-1 tie out in Cincinnati with a groundball RBI single past a drawn-in infield to push the Reds to a last-day victory against the Pirates. The Pittsburgh loss clinched the NL Central division title for the Cardinals before they even threw a pitch this afternoon at Chase Field.
Aroldis Chapman closed the Reds' 4-1 victory at Great America Ball Park and ended the Pirates' pursuit of the division title. The Bucs will play the Giants in the NL Wild Card playoff on Wednesday.
The division title is the Cardinals' second consecutive.
They will have a champagne celebration after the game whether they win or lose this afternoon against Arizona. They will be the last of the NL playoff teams to pop the bubbly, though they have been certain of a playoff spot for a week now.
Wainwright was still expected to pitch, manager Mike Matheny stressed this morning. But then ... As the score in Cincinnati went final, Wainwright stopped his warmup and he and catcher Yadier Molina left the bullpen and walked back to the clubhouse. Wainwright's warmup was incomplete and Nick Greenwood started warming in the bullpen.
Matheny and club officials told media and press box officials that Wainwright would start regardless of the outcome of the Pirates game.
Here's the lineup that actually took the field for the Cardinals:
1. Kolten Wong 2B
2. Randal Grichuk LF
3. Oscar Taveras RF
4. Matt Adams 1B
5. Daniel Descalso 3B
6. Tony Cruz C
7. Peter Bourjos CF
8. Pete Kozma SS
9. Nick Greenwood P
The Cardinals will advance to the division series, which opens Friday in Los Angeles.
Wainwright ready for start regardless of Pirates' result
The Pirates-Reds game in Cincinnati began at 10:10ish local time here at Chase Field, and that has given plenty of Cardinals plenty of time to sit back in the clubhouse and watch the innings pass.
General manager John Mozeliak has had a seat in the middle of the clubhouse. Players were either watching from the seats in front of their lockers or gathering in the middle of the room on the sofas there.
Two members of the team were noticeably absent from the viewing party.
Adam Wainwright, Beats earphones on his head, was busy scouting the opponent he'll face this afternoon at Chase Field regardless of what happens in the game. (Oh, and it's tied 1-1 going into the bottom of the eighth inning there at Great America Ball Park.) And manager Mike Matheny held to his pledge of staying away from the score as much as he can. He held a lengthy chat with the media and he had several meetings with his coaches.
He assured that whether the Pirates win or lose this afternoon, Wainwright is starting this afternoon. The Cardinals do not want him go 11 days between starts if he appears next for Game 1 of the National League division series on Friday.
Here are the lineups for today's game:
1. Carpenter, 3B
2. Jay, CF
3. Holliday, LF -- back from the flu
4. Adams, 1B
5. Peralta, SS
6. Molina, C
7. Wong, 2B
8. Grichuk, RF
9. Wainwright, P
1. Inciarte, LF
2. Pollack, CF
3. Peralta, RF
4. Trumbo, 1B
5. Lamb, 3B
6. Gosewisch, C
7. Pennington, 2B
8. Gregorius, SS
9. Collmenter, P
Check back throughout the day -- including in mere moments after I post this and then update it -- for news, notes, info, and coverage of today's game at Chase Field and the final day of the regular season, pending a tie atop the NL Central.