PHILADELPHIA - The Phillies and their fans showed Saturday night they aren't jaded or bored with success.

The 45,470 fans at Citizens Bank Park roared as loud as ever when the Phillies clinched their fifth straight National League East title with a 9-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals.

"This is amazing," Phillies outfielder Raul Ibanez said. "It's what you play the game for. After all the blood, sweat and tears during the season, it's a great way to let off some steam."

As they have so many times this season, the Phillies received a marvelous effort from their starting pitcher. Roy Oswalt threw seven shutout innings for the win.

The Phillies (98-52) will begin play in the NL Division Series on Oct. 1 at home against an opponent to be determined.

"During the season is great, but real baseball starts in the postseason," Oswalt said.

There had been speculation that the division title celebration would be subdued because Philadelphia has won so much lately and the team is favored to reach the World Series.

That was not the case for the fans or the players.

The Phillies whipped champagne and beer around the clubhouse.

"We have to have fun when we can," Phillies closer Ryan Madson said.

"We have to be so serious and concentrate every day. This is finally time when we can let loose."

Few enjoyed the celebration more than Hunter Pence.

The Phillies acquired Pence in a trade with the Houston Astros in July 30. The Phillies are 31-13 since that date. Pence in his four seasons with the Astros never finished higher than third place.

When the Phillies first entered their clubhouse, they formed a circle around outfielder Pence and drenched him with champagne and beer. Pence danced back and forth in the spray.

"It was a dream come true," Pence said. "It's a bit emotional that my teammates were willing to do that for me. I put a lot of work into that moment."

Since division play began in 1969, the Phillies have won 11 full-season division titles.

The Phillies dominated the NL East this season. They spent all but one day of the season either in first place or tied for the division lead.

Of course, that's what Philadelphia was supposed to do.

They were the division's prohibitive favorite because of their stellar starting rotation of aces Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Oswalt.

With the Phillies needing a win to clinch, fans were into Saturday's game from the first pitch. The crowd booed Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa as he walked to the mound several times in the late innings to either talk to his pitcher or make a move to a reliever. The chilly night even gave the contest a postseason feel.

Oswalt allowed five hits and threw 107 pitches. He struck out seven - all of them swinging. His fastball registered 93 mph on the Citizens Bank scoreboard. Oswalt threw a 92 mph fastball in the seventh inning - a positive sign for the postseason.

The crowd gave Oswalt a standing ovation when he ended the top of the seventh by throwing a 72 mph curveball to strikeout Skip Schumaker with two runners on base.

The performance was especially satisfying for Oswalt because he missed substantial time this season with a back injury.

"To come back and pitch the game clincher means a lot," he said.

The Phillies never trailed Saturday.

Pence knocked in the Phillies' first run with a two-out bloop double in the bottom of the first.

Philadelphia broke the game open with six runs in the bottom of the eighth. Ibanez provided the big hit with a two-out grand slam.

The fans barely sat down after Ibanez's home run. They stood as Madson got Rafael Furcal to bounce to second to end the game. Flash bulbs popped around the ball park with each pitch after Furcal got two strikes.

"It was a jump up from a normal game," Madson said. "Even though it was 9-2, I tried to treat it like it was 1-0."

The division title continues what is a golden era for Phillies fans.

This is a franchise that made just one postseason appearance from 1916-1975.

A little more than 10 years ago, fans probably would have never envisioned the current success. Philadelphia fans sat through seven consecutive losing seasons from 1994-2000.

Those days seem far away now.

As much fun as Saturday was, the Phillies are suppose to pop more champagne corks.

If the Phillies don't reach - or even win - this year's World Series, Saturday's celebration will be forgotten -wiped out by the disappointment of expectations not met.

No one has to tell the Phillies that.

"This is just the first step," first baseman Ryan Howard said. "We know the true test starts in October."

Contact Michael McGarry:


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