By PAUL NEWBERRY
The Associated Press
ATLANTA — Ronald Acuna Jr. was pumped to join a very exclusive club.
He’s even more thrilled about the chance to properly celebrate a division title.
Acuna became the second-youngest player in baseball history to hit 40 homers in a season, Freddie Freeman also drove in two runs and the Atlanta Braves clinched at least a tie for first place in the NL East with a 5-4 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday.
“That’s the most exciting thing up to this point,” Acuna said through a translator. “That’s what we’re all looking for. I think for all of us, it’s just come out with that same energy, that same enthusiasm, get that win and hopefully celebrate. That’s something we’re all looking forward to.”
With eight games left in the regular season, a second straight division title seems a formality for the Braves. They hold a 9 1/2-game lead over the Washington Nationals, who have played three fewer games and were off Thursday.
The Braves can officially let loose as soon as Friday with either a victory over the San Francisco Giants or if Washington loses at Miami.
This time around, Acuna can take part in a champagne toast.
He wasn’t yet of legal age when the Braves won the East a year ago.
“They wouldn’t let me drink because I was a minor,” Acuna recalled, breaking into a big mile. “This year, it’s going to be different. I’m looking forward to it.”
After winning the first two games of the series, Philadelphia’s postseason hopes took another blow. The Phillies came into the day trailing both Milwaukee and the Chicago Cubs by three games for the NL’s second wild-card spot.
“We’ve still got a chance,” Bryce Harper insisted.
Acuna’s historic homer came with a flourish. He launched a 432-foot drive into the second deck at SunTrust Park, standing at home plate to admire his shot off Aaron Nola before tossing the bat away and slowly rounding the bases.
Mel Ott, who was 20 when he hit 42 homers for the New York Giants in 1940, is the only player younger than Acuna to post a 40-homer season. Eddie Mathews also was 21 but about two months older than Acuna when he hit 47 homers for the Milwaukee Braves in 1953.
Ott and Mathews are both members of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“It feels incredible,” Acuna said. “To be compared to superstars and Hall of Famers like that, especially at such a young age, wow.”
The youngster had gone five games since hitting his 39th homer.
“He might relax now and really go off,” manager Brian Snitker said. “That’s an unbelievable accomplishment at this stage of his career.”
Acuna is still three stolen bases shy of another milestone. He has 37 steals in his quest to become just the fifth 40-40 player in baseball history, following Jose Canseco (1988), Barry Bonds (1996), Alex Rodriguez (1998) and Alfonso Soriano (2006).
Red Sox 5, Giants 4
BOSTON — Eduardo Rodriguez struck out 10 over six innings of two-hit ball, and Xander Bogaerts had a pair of RBI singles to lead Boston over San Francisco.
Brandon Workman picked up his 15th save. Rodriguez (18-6) walked two and allowed one unearned run.
Madison Bumgarner (9-9) lost in his first career start at Fenway Park, giving up five runs on nine hits and two walks in five innings while striking out seven. He allowed the first four Boston batters to reach safely and fell behind 2-1 after one inning.
Cardinals 5, Cubs 4,
CHICAGO — Matt Carpenter homered in the 10th inning against Craig Kimbrel in the All-Star closer’s return, and St. Louis regrouped after blowing a late lead to beat Chicago.
Emerging ace Jack Flaherty shut down Chicago over eight innings, and despite a tying three-run rally in the ninth, the Cubs dropped a game behind Milwaukee for the second NL wild card and four games behind St. Louis for first place in the NL Central.
Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo provided a jolt in his unexpected return from a sprained right ankle, homering in the third inning to tie the game at 1. But Flaherty was spectacular otherwise, pitching three-hit ball while allowing just the one run and striking out eight.
Carpenter homered to deep center field off Kimbrel (0-3), who was activated from the injured list prior to the game after dealing with right elbow inflammation.
Giovanny Gallegos pitched a perfect 10th for his first save in two chances. Andrew Miller (5-5) recorded the final two outs in the ninth for the victory.
Brewers 5, Padres 1
MILWAUKEE — Lorenzo Cain homered before exiting with a sore ankle, Milwaukee pitchers combined to strike out 16 and the Brewers improved their playoff position by beating San Diego.
Milwaukee moved within one game of Washington for the top NL wild-card spot. The Brewers are in the second wild-card slot and three games behind Central-leading St. Louis.
Ryan Braun put Milwaukee ahead with an RBI double in the first inning off Joey Lucchesi (10-9). The Brewers added a run in the third when Keston Huira doubled and later scored on Lucchesi’s wild pitch.
Eric Hosmer’ homered for San Diego.
Freddy Peralta (7-3) struck out three of the four batters he faced for the win. Josh Hader picked up his 34th save in 40 tries, breaking a franchise record for left-handers previously held by Dan Plesac.
Twins 8, Royals 5
MINNEAPOLIS — Nelson Cruz hit two of Minnesota’s four home runs and matched his season high with five RBIs, igniting another impressive power display by the first-place Twins.
The win over Kansas City kept the Twins’ American League Central lead at four games — with nine games to go.
Miguel Sano homered and hit the tiebreaking RBI double in the fifth following the ejection of Royals starter Mike Montgomery, who started that inning by giving up a home run to Mitch Garver.
The Twins trimmed their magic number for clinching the division to six.
Lewis Thorpe (4-2) worked four innings for the win. Taylor Rogers recorded his 28th save.
Indians 7, Tigers 0
CLEVELAND — Mike Clevinger pitched six shutdown innings, Franmil Reyes homered in his return to the lineup and Cleveland moved into a tie for the second AL wild card with a win over Detroit.
Francisco Lindor added three hits, and Cleveland matched idle Tampa Bay at 90-63. Both teams trail Oakland by two games for the top spot. The Indians trail Minnesota by four games in the AL Central.
The Indians defeated the Tigers for the 17th straight time this season to match a franchise record set against Baltimore in 1954. Cleveland won 18 of 19 in the season series and outscored Detroit 116-38
Clevinger (12-3) allowed seven hits and struck out six.
Starter Daniel Norris (3-13) allowed one run in three innings for the Tigers, who have the worst record in baseball at 45-107.
The shutout was the 15th by Cleveland this season, and Detroit was blanked for the 14th time.
Mariners 6, Pirates 5,
PITTSBURGH — Shed Long had three hits, two RBIs and scored the go-ahead run in the 11th on an unusual inning-ending double play as Seattle beat Pittsburgh.
The Mariners swept the three-game series between last-place teams and sent the Pirates to their sixth straight loss.
Long reached base on first baseman Jose Osuna’s error to start the 11th and Omar Narvaez singled with one out to put runners on the corners. Austin Nola then hit a chopper to second baseman Kevin Kramer — rather than flip the ball to second, he ran at Narvaez, who alertly stopped and began to retreat.
Kramer then threw to first, and Narvaez was eventually tagged in a 4-3-6-2 rundown as Long scored. Kramer likely would’ve had no chance to throw home at the start to get Long.
Pittsburgh’s Jake Elmore had three hits and two RBIs.
Blue Jays 8, Orioles 4
BALTIMORE — Cavan Biggio homered and had three RBIs to offset a spectacular, homer-robbing catch by Austin Hays, and Toronto used a six-run seventh inning to beat Baltimore for a three-game sweep.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. also went deep for the Blue Jays, who earned their first sweep at Camden Yards since July 2010.
After Biggio and Gurriel homered off Gabriel Ynoa (1-9) within a span of three pitches in the fourth inning, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. sent a drive to center. Hays ran to the warning track, leaped to reach over the 7-foot wall and snagged the ball in the middle of his glove. Upon returning to the ground, Hays pounded his chest three times in succession and yelled with delight.
Anthony Kay (1-0) earned his first major league victory.
Trey Mancini had four hits for the Orioles, who have lost four straight and 15 of 19.