Phillies clinch 4th consecutive NL East title

Ryan Howard is a veteran when it comes to clubhouse

celebrations.

So the Philadelphia Phillies’ slugging first baseman was

well-prepared this time around, holding a smoldering cigar in his

right hand and a tall can of beer in his left – and sporting a wide

set of ski goggles to protect his eyes from the sting of champagne

showers.

Howard also knows a fourth consecutive NL East title is not the

end-all and be-all for these Phillies, who won the 2008 World

Series and lost to the New York Yankees in the 2009 edition.

”If you’re not here to try to win a championship, you’re here

for the wrong reasons,” said Howard, the 2006 NL MVP. ”We feel

like we kind of have some unfinished business and have taken the

first step to … trying to right that ship.”

At 94-63 with five games remaining, Philadelphia clinched its

division and assured itself of home-field advantage throughout the

postseason – the NL won the All-Star Game, remember – by beating

the last-place Washington Nationals 8-0 Monday night behind Roy

Halladay’s two-hitter and Jayson Werth’s four RBIs.

”That’s the reason you want to come to a team like this. They

know how to do it,” said Halladay, who earned his 21st win with

his fourth shutout and ninth complete game, all highs in the majors

this season. ”It’s the coolest thing I’ve been a part of. It’s

just the start, I think.”

That was a prevailing theme as the Phillies engaged in the usual

beverage-spraying hijinks: This is great, but we want more.

”There’s a bigger picture here,” said Werth, who hit his 26th

homer and added a single and double. ”Now we can put this behind

us after we celebrate this tonight. We’ve got a long way to go.

We’ve got a long road. We know where we want to be. We know what

happened last year; we haven’t forgot it. We know what’s at stake,

and we’re looking forward to it.”

Halladay (21-10) will be on the big stage of the playoffs for

the first time in his 13th major league season, having played his

entire career with the Toronto Blue Jays before being traded to

Philadelphia last winter.

When the Phillies gathered in the visiting clubhouse at

Nationals Park, they let Halladay, backup catcher Brian Schneider

and bench player Mike Sweeney pop the first champagne corks – three

veterans who never before have been postseason participants.

”I’ll never forget that,” said Schneider, who used to play for

the Nationals. ”They waited for us. … They thought of us and

that was awesome.”

Halladay recalled watching other teams’ celebrations on TV in

the past. Now he finally got to take part. He even made a rookie

mistake, leaving a set of goggles perched atop the brim of his cap,

instead of pulling them down over his eyes.

He hunched over and scrunched up his face when Werth dumped a

full bottle of bubbly over him.

”It was very special to have him go out and finish the game,”

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said about Halladay. ”I know he

wanted to be out there.”

And it seemed fitting that Halladay would be on the mound for

the out that clinched the team’s latest division title. Normally

rather stoic out there, the 2003 AL Cy Young Award winner punched

his glove with his pitching hand after striking out a swinging

Danny Espinosa to end the game.

Halladay instantly broke into a big smile, and the Phillies

gathered in the middle of the diamond for hugs and high-fives.

Thousands of red-clad, white-towel-waving Phillies fans in the

announced crowd of 14,309 gave a standing ovation then began their

last in a long series of chants of ”Let’s go, Phillies!”

Unlike previous years, when they counted on a potent offense,

the Phillies relied on outstanding pitching in 2010. Led by

Halladay, 2008 World Series MVP Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt – picked

up from Houston in a trade-deadline deal – the starting rotation

dominated, especially in September.

What a stretch run: Philadelphia is 20-5 this month, its most

wins in September since compiling 22 in 1983.

And the Phillies have gone 46-17 since July 21, when they

trailed Atlanta by seven games. Eight days later, they got Oswalt,

forming as fearsome a threesome of starters as there is in the

majors.

Looking to become the first team in 66 years to win three

consecutive National League championships, the Phillies started

this season strong, before injuries and an inconsistent offense

took a toll. Six of Philadelphia’s eight regulars spent time on the

disabled list, and nearly all saw their production decline. At one

point, Howard, Chase Utley, and Shane Victorino were absent during

a nearly two-week stretch in August.

But the Phillies managed to overtake the Braves and continue

their recent run of success.

”For years, to win the division, you had to go through

Atlanta,” Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said. ”Now you’ve got

to go through Philadelphia.”

His team is all-too-familiar with that: The Phillies wrapped

things up with late-season victories over the Nationals in 2007 and

2008, too.

Another division title won and celebrated, now Howard, Halladay

and the rest of the 2010 Philadelphia Phillies can move on to other

goals.

”To do what we’ve done the last four years here is a great

accomplishment, and we’re well aware,” Werth said, soaking wet

from head to toe. ”But there’s bigger things at stake, and we know

where we want to end up.”

AP Sports Writers Dan Gelston and Rob Maaddi in Philadelphia

contributed to this report.