Pascual Perez prevented the Cardinals from popping the champagne Wednesday night at St. Louis.
Perez held the Cardinals to four hits in seven innings and improved his record to 7-0 by pitching the Montreal Expos to a 6-1 victory, disappointing a crowd of 43,236 that had come to celebrate.
Their one chance to go wild was when the Philadelphia Phillies' win over the New York Mets was flashed on the scoreboard. It assured the Cardinals of at least a tie for the National League East title.
The Cardinals, with one game to play against the Expos tonight and three with the Mets at home, are 3 1/2 games ahead of the Mets and four ahead of the Expos. The Mets or Expos could only win the division in a playoff.
Perez, apparently washed up at 29 last year when nobody wanted him, went to the minors this season, then joined the Expos in late August. He became the first Expo to win seven games in one month. Perez, who did not have a decision in his first two starts, began his streak with a win at San Francisco Sept. 2. The Expos have won all nine games Perez has started.
Once regarded as an outstanding prospect by the Atlanta Braves, Perez had a drug problem and appeared washed up. His comeback has been phenomenal.
In no start has he given up more than three runs, and in four of them he has given up just one run.
"I knew after they won the two last night," Perez said, "that this was a big game and I was ready. I know what it's like to have the champagne ready. I just did what I had to do.
"I'm just happy to be here and be a part of this team."
The run he gave up in the fourth inning Wednesday night was unearned because Perez made a wild pickoff throw, trying to catch speedy Vince Coleman off second base. Coleman went to third and scored on Tommy Herr's ground-out to tie the score, 1-1.
It was the fifth run in three games for the Cardinals, who shut out the Expos twice Tuesday night. All have been driven in without benefit of a hit.
An infield hit by Andres Galarraga with the bases loaded in the sixth broke the tie and made a loser of Bob Forsch (11-7). Galarraga, 28 for 65 with 12 runs batted in against the Cardinals this season, hit a high chopper to third. Terry Pendleton fielded the ball but had no play. Another run scored on an infield out, and Hubie Brooks hit a bases-loaded triple in the ninth to make it a rout.
Manager Whitey Herzog said the Cardinals didn't play well with a chance to clinch the title.
"We weren't flat; we just didn't execute," he said. "When you aren't hitting, you might look flat but we weren't."
The only time the crowd had a chance to roar was with Johnny Morris of the Cardinals at bat in the sixth inning. That's when the Mets' loss was flashed on the scoreboard.
"It was really something when the crowd was screaming, "Morris said. "I didn't know what was going on until I saw the scoreboard. We didn't win it tonight, but we will."
Philadelphia 4, New York 3--Luis Aguayo, who had been 1 for 17 as a pinch-hitter, hammered a pinch home run with one out in the 10th inning at Philadelphia to all but end the Mets' hopes of repeating as champions of the East.
Today, the Mets will fly to St. Louis for a three-game series that begins Friday night. Unless Montreal beats the Cardinals tonight, the series will be meaningless. If Montreal wins, the Mets, by sweeping the Cardinals, could force a playoff. It could also involve the Expos, who would have to beat Chicago three times at home to qualify for a three-team playoff.
"We have to hope Montreal wins and we have life going in there (St. Louis)," Keith Hernandez said.
Although the Mets couldn't win behind their ace, Dwight Gooden, they did snap out of a horrendous slump. The Mets, held to one hit by Don Carman Tuesday night, went scoreless for 20 innings and had 29 batters retired in a row.
But Darryl Strawberry hit Shane Rawley's first pitch in the fifth inning for his 39th home run to end the drought. In the next inning, Mookie Wilson doubled, and Tim Teufel tied the game, 3-3, with his 14th home run.
The Phillies jumped on Gooden for three runs in the first three innings, two on Mike Schmidt's 35th home run in the third. Babe Ruth hit 35 or more homers in 12 seasons, and Schmidt has tied Henry Aaron for second place on that list by doing it for the 11th time.
Gooden, who started with just three days' rest after being shelled by Pittsburgh Saturday, settled down to pitch six shutout innings. Jesse Orosco replaced Gooden in the 10th. After retiring pinch-hitter Ron Roenicke, Orosco served up Aguayo's 12th home run.
"I was sitting on a breaking ball," Aguayo said, "because that's what he usually gives me with two strikes. He tried to sneak a fastball in, and I just reacted. I made good contact."
No team has repeated in the National League since the Phillies won in 1977-78. But the Mets appeared a likely team to do it.
Almost from the time they won the World Series, things have gone wrong. Injuries and the time Gooden spent in drug rehabilitation affected the pitching staff.
The Mets dropped 10 games behind St. Louis by the All-Star break. They pulled within 3 1/2 games by Aug. 19. But instead of taking charge as expected, they have struggled trying to stay close.
"We've really got our backs to the wall now," Manager Davey Johnson said. "We've been bumping into it backwards for a couple of weeks."