ST. LOUIS, OCT. 1 -- The St. Louis Cardinals won their third National League East title in six seasons tonight with a resounding 8-2 victory over the Montreal Expos while 52,864 T-shirt waving fans celebrated at Busch Stadium.

Danny Cox (11-9), whose last complete game was April 23 against Chicago, won a five-hitter. He was helped by Dan Driessen, who had three RBI and made numerous outstanding defensive plays. The Cardinals broke open the game with a five-run seventh.

"In previous years, I've always been standing back, looking at other guys," said shortstop Ozzie Smith, whose two-run single in the seventh put the capper on for the Cardinals. "We had our backs against the wall so many times, but the guys came through."

Cox especially. He had been on the 21-day disabled list after breaking a foot July 10. His longest outing had been 7 2/3 innings against the Pirates Sept. 22.

"When it's 8-1 {he gave up a harmless homer to Tim Wallach in the ninth}, you find that extra strength," he said. "I wanted to go out there. I wanted to finish it."

Manager Whitey Herzog was about to pull him in the eighth after the first two batters singled. "If that next batter had gotten a hit I might have," Herzog said.

But Tim Raines hit into a 4-6-3 double play and Mitch Webster flied to right.

Driessen had been hitting .218 since coming up from Class AAA Louisville Aug. 31. He went two for three, including a two-run double that broke a 1-1 tie in the fourth inning. In the seventh, his fly to right drove in Vince Coleman.

"I felt it was just my time," Driessen said. "Tonight, I just broke out. It's a great feeling. I knew I was struggling a bit."

It was Cox who began the evening struggling. Raines led off the game with a double to left. Webster sacrificed, and Hubie Brooks walked. Wallach then grounded to Terry Pendleton at third, whose throw home hit Raines and bounced away from catcher Tony Pena. Raines scored.

After that, Cox retired 16 in a row on a variety of fastballs, curves and change-ups. And if any ball was well hit, Driessen usually came up with it.

He had earlier taken a hit away from Raines by ranging to his left for a hard grounder. In the seventh, he stretched for Pendleton's one-hop throw and retired Andres Galarraga. Then he dived to his right for Tom Foley's smash, got up and tossed to Cox covering.

The Cardinals put the game away in their half. In typical fashion, they parlayed two singles, two errors, two stolen bases, two walks and a sacrifice into five runs.

Pinch hitter Jose Oquendo walked, then Pena singled to right. Cox bunted in front of reliever Jeff Parrett, who tried to get Oquendo at third. But his throw ended up in the bullpen. Oquendo scored, Pena went to third and Cox to second. After Coleman walked, Smith's hopper skipped through the drawn-in infield for a 6-1 lead.

"Ozzie, he's a catalyst," said the newest Cardinal, Doug DeCinces. "I've just been here a couple of days and I can see it."

Driessen's fly to right scored Coleman, who had gone to third on a double-steal with Smith.

The crowd did indeed begin its celebration, chanting "Go Home, Mets" to Keith Hernandez and other Mets who showed up for their final three-game series a day early.

In Houston, the Braves stole seven bases against the Astros, even pulling a delayed triple steal in the fourth inning. Just after catcher Ronn Reynolds tossed the ball toward pitcher Danny Darwin, Jeff Blauser broke from first, Ken Oberkfell from second and Gerald Perry from third. Reynolds dropped Darwin's return throw, suffering a bruised and cut right hand when Perry slid home.

Reynolds left the game and replacement Troy Afenir allowed Oberkfell to score on a passed ball. But the Astros won, 6-5, in the ninth on Terry Puhl's single.

Despite an earthquake earlier in the day, 31,914 turned out for the Dodgers' finale in Los Angeles and were treated to Bob Welch's one-hitter. He also singled in two runs in beating the Giants, 7-0.

In Pittsburgh, the Pirates beat the Chicago Cubs, 12-3, with Doug Drabek winning for the ninth time in his last 11 decisions.