Rockies clinch playoff spot, NL West within reach

DENVER -- After a champagne celebration at Coors Field, the Colorado Rockies headed to Los Angeles with a playoff berth in their back pocket and another goal in mind: snatching the NL West title from the reeling Dodgers.

The Rockies completed one of the most remarkable turnarounds in major league history by clinching a playoff spot with a 9-2 win over Milwaukee on Thursday.

They were a dozen games under .500 four months ago and now they're 91-68, the best mark in their 17-year history.

"And we're not done yet," Ryan Spilborghs said.

The Rockies' fourth straight victory eliminated Atlanta, their final pursuer, from contention for the NL wild card and gave Colorado it second playoff berth in three years. They won the pennant in 2007.

Colorado can still catch the Dodgers for the NL West title if the Rockies sweep a weekend series in Los Angeles. The Dodgers, who have lost four straight, were off Thursday and watched their division lead over the Rockies get sliced to two games with three left.

So, the Rockies won't be resting any regulars this weekend.

"Until we get beat a game, we're going to try to win the division," said manager Jim Tracy, who is 73-40 since taking over the club upon Clint Hurdle's firing on May 29.

"We've done this before," Todd Helton said. "We've poured champagne on ourselves before and once the party's over, we know hot to get back to work."

The Rockies will send ace Ubaldo Jimenez to the mound Friday night to face lefty Randy Wolf.

"Regardless, we're in the postseason -- but we want to go there and beat L.A.," said Aaron Cook, who pitched four-hit ball over eight spectacular innings Thursday in his second start since missing a month with a sore shoulder.

As the Rockies rejoiced behind the mound after the final out, fans broke into a chant of "Beat L.A.! Beat L.A!" while fireworks crackled through a cloudless sky.

"I've never had a better feeling than this in 33 years in professional baseball," Tracy said.

After trading slugger Matt Holliday last fall for closer Huston Street and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, the Rockies got off to a stumbling start. They were 18-28 on May 29 when Tracy took over.

He gathered his players in the clubhouse and told them the best players were going to play and he was going to get out of the way. That lent stability to the lineup and bullpen and an added excitement to the clubhouse.

It took a week for Tracy's approach to take hold. They fell to 20-32, 15½ games behind the Dodgers, on June 3. Only the lowly Washington Nationals were worse.

Then, recalling their "Roctober" run of 2007, they won 17 of 18 and started to believe another champagne shower in October was actually a possibility.

"That's quite a mountain to climb," Tracy said.

They've gone 71-36 since June 3.

"We knew we had a good team," shortstop Troy Tulowitzki added. "Every team goes through a struggle in a season. Ours was early. We overcame it and we've played great since then."

Cardinals 13, Reds 0

At Cincinnati, Chris Carpenter hit a grand slam and drove in six runs, getting St. Louis back on track with his arm and bat in a rout of Cincinnati.

Carpenter's first career homer came off Kip Wells (2-5) and capped a five-run second inning for the Cardinals, who had lost three straight since clinching the NL Central. He added a two-run double during a four-run fifth to match the career RBI total he brought into the game.

The right-hander also threw five innings of three-hit ball for his 17th win.

Giants 7, Diamondbacks 3

At San Francisco, Tim Lincecum struck out seven in his final start of the season, Andres Torres homered and hit an RBI triple and the Giants won their home finale.

Lincecum (15-7) outpitched Dan Haren (14-10) in a matchup of aces. The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner completed his season with 261 strikeouts and a 2.48 ERA.

Astros 5, Phillies 3

At Philadelphia, Cliff Lee (7-4) was shaky in his playoff tuneup and the Phillies one night after clinching their third consecutive NL East title.

Miguel Tejada homered to extend his hitting streak to 18 games and Lance Berkman had a two-run double for the Astros.

Nationals 2, Braves 1

At Atlanta, Pete Orr hit a tiebreaking single in the ninth inning and Washington beat the Braves hours after they were eliminated from playoff contention.

Orr's one-out single to left drove in Ryan Zimmerman, who opened the ninth with a double off Rafael Soriano (1-6).