CINCINNATI — Fate, in the guise of a St. Louis Cardinals comeback victory over the Chicago Cubs yesterday afternoon, offered the Reds a chance to write a sweet ending to the National League Central Division title chase a couple of hours later in the gathering shadows of Great American Ball Park.
Cincinnati wrapped up its second division championship in three seasons by defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 6-0 and, in the process, stopped the mathematical heartbeat of the Cardinals.
The energized crowd of 41,117 enjoyed the show, highlighted by a dominant start by Mat Latos and long home runs by Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips. It was a textbook performance by a solid team.
“I just happened to be the one (to start it), and everybody followed suit,” said Bruce, who launched a 443-foot solo shot to right field to break a scoreless tie in the fourth inning. “We won as a team again, as we’ve been doing all year.”
The only missing element from the moment was manager Dusty Baker. He remained hospitalized in Chicago, where he has been treated since Wednesday for an irregular heartbeat. He was not forgotten by anyone.
“We had a toast (for Dusty) before we came in,” third baseman Scott Rolen said. “We gathered around in here and had our private ceremony. We miss Dusty. We know he’s doing well. He’s a big part of this team. It’s a shame that he wasn’t here. He kind of digs this stuff.”
Had Baker been in the dugout, he would have seen Latos (13-4) pitch eight shutout innings and Phillips add his 424-foot solo home run in the seventh inning to help settle the matter.
Team owner Bob Castellini came out of the middle of the clubhouse celebration drenched in champagne and beer. He was delighted with the division title but would like more this season. The Philadelphia Phillies swept the Reds in a division series in 2010.
“Some people say today is great,” Castellini said. “The thing about this team is we’re going to be a great team the next few weeks. Two years ago, we were in the playoffs. This year, we’re going to go deep in the playoffs, in my estimation.”
He said the Reds grew up while playing for six weeks in July and August without first baseman and 2010 NL Most Valuable Player Joey Votto, who was recovering from surgery on his left knee.
“When Joey went down, we looked at each other and said, ‘Who’s going to do it?’ ” Castellini said. “ ‘I guess it’s going to be you and you and you.’ That’s the way the guys were. We covered everybody’s backs.
That “team” feeling permeated the clubhouse, as did the lure of possibilities.
“You have a pretty good idea when you’re going to have (great years), and that’s not very often,” Rolen said. “For some guys, it’s never in their careers.
“We have a really nice thing going on here, and we’ve got a good group of guys that are good players. You don’t take anything for granted.”