The St. Louis Cardinals became the first major league team to clinch a playoff spot this season, winning the NL Central for the third time in five seasons.

A few hours after the host Cardinals beat the Arizona Diamondbacks, 7-0 yesterday, the playoff berth was clinched when San Francisco lost to San Diego. When the Chicago Cubs lost at Cincinnati, the division title was assured.

St. Louis (97-50) can only be matched in the division by the Cubs (81-65), who lost the season series with the Cardinals 11-8. In addition, the Giants' loss meant that the second-place teams in both the NL East and NL West will have 96 wins or fewer.

Because of that, if the Cardinals and the Cubs were to finish in a tie, both would be guaranteed playoff berths. Under baseball's rules, St. Louis would be awarded the division title because it won the season series.

As for the game, Chris Carpenter felt a twinge in his biceps and called it a day after pitching just three-plus innings. He and the Cardinals thought a serious injury probably was avoided by the decision.

The 15-game winner left in the fourth inning with a strained right biceps, but four relievers helped complete a six-hitter. Carpenter is expected to miss only one start.

Mike Matheny got his fifth RBI in five games for the Cardinals, who won for only the fifth time in 11 games.

* ROCKIES 8, DODGERS 1: Joe Kennedy pitched seven innings of four-hit ball and had a two-run triple in Colorado's five-run seventh in Denver.

* BRAVES 4, MARLINS 2: Jaret Wright allowed just three hits in 81/3 innings, and visiting Atlanta dealt another blow to Florida's fading hopes in the NL wild-card race. The Braves reduced the magic number to six for clinching their 13th consecutive NL East title. The Marlins have lost four of their past five, all at home.

* REDS 6, CUBS 5: Wily Mo Pena hit two home runs to offset a pair by Moises Alou and lead host Cincinnati to victory. The Giants lead the Cubs by a half game and Houston by a game.

* METS 8, PIRATES 7: Mike Cameron's sacrifice fly in the 10th drove in the go-ahead run, leading New York to the road win.

* ASTROS 4, BREWERS 3: Jeff Bagwell homered and drove in three runs, becoming the 29th player in major league history to both score and drive in 1,500 runs, and Houston rallied to beat visiting Milwaukee.

"Baggy was big with his big hit, but that's what you have to do," Houston Manager Phil Garner said. "You can't make excuses, just figure out a way to get it done."

* EXPOS 6, PHILLIES 5: Tony Batista's two-out RBI single in the 14th lifted visiting Montreal to victory. Batista finished 4 for 6, falling a home run short of the cycle.