In his first appearance since Sept. 10, closer Aroldis Chapman took over after Mat Latos pitched eight stellar innings. Chapman induced the game-ending double play that sparked the clinch celebration.
The magic number became zero as the Reds (92-60) officially eliminated the Cardinals from the division race. St. Louis put the clinch directly in the hands of the Reds by beating the Cubs in extra innings a few hours earlier at Wrigley Field. Meanwhile, it was the early innings in Cincinnati.
Unlike Friday, when they missed a chance to clinch with a loss in extras to Los Angeles, the Reds did not spoil the party for the sold-out crowd of 41,117 fans that packed Great American Ball Park. Latos made sure of it.
"I thought it was the best I've looked all year," Latos said. "I'm still an ugly cat, but I still thought I pitched great. I feel good and I'm excited. I'm ready for the playoffs. I came into it knowing the Cubs had the lead and I didn't even bother looking at the scoreboard from there on out. I was like, 'I know I've got a job to do. If they lose, I can do this and we can win this ballgame. That's all that really matters.'"
Latos (13-4), now 8-2 with a 2.52 ERA over his last 17 starts, gave up just six singles with no walks and struck out seven. He never had more than one baserunner in any inning, and three of his hits came with two outs. No Dodgers runners reached second base.
Leading off the bottom of the fourth against Dodgers starter Stephen Fife, Jay Bruce sent a first pitch soaring high into the right-field moon deck for a home run and 1-0 Reds lead. The estimated 443-foot shot increased Bruce's career-best homer total to 34. It was Bruce who hit a walk-off home run two years ago vs. the Astros to clinch the division for Cincinnati.
"Mat did an unbelievable job. Chapman came in and got back on the mound for the first time in a while," Bruce said. "We took care of business -- defense, offense, pitching, this is a nutshell of what we've done all year."
In the Reds' fifth with one out, Brandon Phillips reached with a four-pitch walk against Fife and Joey Votto hit a two-out single. Notching his first RBI since Aug. 28, Frazier rolled a single through the left side that scored Phillips. Frazier rounded too far off of first base, however, and became the inning's third out in a rundown.
With two outs in the seventh against Matt Guerrier, Phillips hit a 2-2 pitch off the facing of the left field upper deck for a solo homer and three-run lead.
"Celebrate, get it in, enjoy it, because this is just the beginning," Phillips said. "We're still on a mission. We've got things we've got to do and got to prove."
Sending eight men to the plate in the eighth, Cincinnati added three more runs, including Zack Cozart's two-run single. And once Chapman entered to a huge ovation, the wheels toward celebration were in full momentum.
After the final out, fireworks blasted over the stadium as the Reds mobbed Chapman near the mound. Pitcher Johnny Cueto was already spraying champagne in the pile before the wet stuff really sprayed inside the clubhouse.
"I suppose it would have been a bit anticlimactic had we already got in and to play the game knowing we already clinched," Votto said.
It was Cincinnati's second NL Central title in three seasons and for absent manager Dusty Baker, he became only the third Reds skipper in franchise history to lead the Reds to the postseason more than once, joining Bill McKechnie (1939-40) and Sparky Anderson (1970, '72, '73, '75 and '76).
Unfortunately, Baker could not be present to enjoy the moment. The 63-year-old remained hospitalized back in Chicago, where he was being treated for an irregular heartbeat.
"It felt good. If Dusty was here, it would have been a whole lot better," Phillips said. "We miss our manager."