NL East champion Phillies end season with win

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - September 28, 2008 May as well sit back and enjoy the NL East title for at least a day.

Lou Marson and Matt Stairs hit back-to-back homers for Philadelphia and the NL East champion Phillies rested their regulars in an 8-3 win over the Washington Nationals on Sunday.

The Phillies will open the best-of-five division series at home Wednesday against Milwaukee. The Phillies went 5-1 against the Brewers this season.

"We're going to match up fine as long as we don't see CC every turn," Manuel said.

While the Phillies stars rested on the final day, Milwaukee turned to ace CC Sabathia on three days' rest against Chicago to win the wild card.

Pitching Sabathia was fine with Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. "I'm kind of glad CC pitched today," Manuel said.

So Taguchi drove in three runs for the Phillies, who played rookies and reserves a day after they clinched their second consecutive NL East title. Howard, the major league home run champion with 48, had a pinch-hit single and scored on Taguchi's triple.

The Phillies already tacked a "2008 National League East Division Champions" sign over the 2007 version on the wall into the clubhouse. Championship T-shirts and hats hung in the lockers, and some players stashed away bottles of champagne with a "Phillies" label.

"We got hot at the right time," Manuel said.

The Phillies were 3½ games behind New York after losing to Florida on Sept. 10. But they swept a four-game series against Milwaukee that jump-started their September stretch run.

"Now we're starting all over," Manuel said. "We've got to come out of the gate strong and play good against them now." The Nationals (59-102) finished with the worst record in the majors and will not bring back five coaches next year.

"It was a tough season, a poor season," Nationals manager Manny Acta said.

This has been a great season so far for the 92-win Phillies, who are in prime position to snap Philadelphia's torturous 25-year championship drought.

Utley, Rollins and the rest of the Philadelphia starters sat once this game became meaningless. Cole Hamels was scheduled to pitch, but took the day off to rest for his Game 1 start in the division series on Wednesday. Hamels declined to comment on his start.

Manuel said he was undecided about his Game 2 starter and might wait until Monday to announce one. Brett Myers is a strong candidate, and Jamie Moyer and Joe Blanton could start in Game 3 and Game 4.

With Hamels out, the Phillies turned to 11-game winner Kyle Kendrick for the start. Kendrick's awful second half of the season (11.35 ERA in his last six starts) got him bumped off the first-round roster. He'll pitch in the Florida instructional league and keep loose in case the Phillies need another arm if they advance out of the NLDS.

"I understand," Kendrick said. "I need to go down and stay fresh."

Kendrick didn't look much better against the Nationals. Luke Montz hit his first career homer off Kendrick in the third inning and the right hander allowed three runs and four hits in four innings.

Les Walrond (1-1) earned his first major league victory, striking out four in two shutout innings.

Taguchi and Eric Bruntlett drove in runs for the Phillies in the fourth to put them up 4-3. Odalis Perez (7-12) gave up eight hits and four runs in 3 2-3 innings, leaving with nausea and some lightheadedness.

Marson, who made his major league debut, and Stairs connected in the eighth inning.

Utley, Rollins and closer Brad Lidge - who saved Saturday's clincher - made their only appearance in a brief pregame speech where they thanked the fans and showed off their championship banner.

"We accomplished Step 1 and you guys were there to see that," said Rollins, the 2007 NL MVP. "Now, you have to be here to see us accomplish the next two steps. Everybody come on down and have some fun."

A sellout crowd of 44,945 packed Citizens Bank Park, a day after the Phillies earned consecutive postseason appearances for the first time since 1980-81. That brought their final attendance totals to 50 sellouts and a record 3,455,583 fans.

"You guys have been unbelievable," Utley said.

Howard received a standing ovation and heard chants of "MVP! MVP!" when he pinch-hit in the sixth. He poked a single to left and became the only Phillie to play in all 162 games this season. Howard scored on Taguchi's triple to right for a 5-3 lead - the slugging first baseman wisely deciding not slide on a close play at the plate.

Manuel said Howard, who was named NL MVP in 2006, was worthy of the award again.

"You can't overlook the big fella," Manuel said. "Find someone in baseball who's better than him."

Howard earned some rest on Sunday as the Phillies - for a game, at least - boasted the most dangerous bench in baseball. The Phillies are off Monday then return to Citizens Bank on Tuesday for a workout.

They can only hope this year's postseason run fares better than last year's dismal outing.

Philadelphia was swept out of the first round by Colorado last season after a remarkable finish just to get in. Notes: Manuel said CF Shane Victorino should be OK and ready to go for the NLDS. Victorino was hurt in a collision with Rollins on Saturday night. ... Manuel said the playoff roster should be completed over the next two days.

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