Pujols homers off Smoltz in eighth to win game


ST. LOUIS (AP) -- It all happened so quickly, even Braves
shortstop Rafael Furcal wasn't sure what he accomplished.

Furcal turned the 12th unassisted triple play in major league
history, but the St. Louis Cardinals beat Atlanta 3-2 Sunday night
on Albert Pujols' tiebreaking homer off John Smoltz in the eighth

Furcal single-handedly snuffed out a Cardinals rally in the
fifth for the first unassisted triple play in the majors since
Oakland second baseman Randy Velarde did it against the New York
Yankees on May 29, 2000.

"I didn't know right away," Furcal said. "I wasn't thinking
of trying to get three outs by myself, I was just trying to get

With runners on first and second, Furcal made a leaping grab of
pitcher Woody Williams' liner. The runners were going on a 1-1
pitch, and Furcal stepped on second base to double up Mike Matheny
before tagging out Orlando Palmeiro as he made a futile attempt to
scamper back to first.

Furcal said he was once involved in a triple play in the minors.

"But it wasn't all by myself," he added.

Williams is one of the best hitting pitchers in the majors, with
a .250 batting average and seven RBI.

"That's amazing," he said. "I told myself to just hit the
ball on the ground and all of a sudden it's there, and I reach for
it off the end of the bat. It's a nice play on Furcal's part."

Gary Sheffield homered and hit a sacrifice fly for the Braves,
who took a 2-1 lead into the eighth. But Eduardo Perez homered off
Horacio Ramirez with two outs and Pujols followed with his 31st of
the season on a 1-0 pitch from Smoltz (0-2).

"You don't want to face that guy in that situation," Pujols
said. "He's the best guy. I guess I got lucky and won the

The home run extended Pujols' hitting streak to 24 games. The
Cardinals took two of three from the NL's top team and manager Tony
La Russa said it gets better "only in October."

"That's one of those 'wow' victories," La Russa said. "You
watch Eduardo tie it up and you go 'wow, wow,' and then Smoltz
comes in and you think 'Man, I wonder how long we're going to play.

"Then Albert does what he does and it's beyond 'wow."

Pujols is 36-for-94 during the streak (.383) and is hitting a
major league-best .368 overall.

Sheffield was 3-for-3, extending his hitting streak to 15 games.

Smoltz has given up only two homers in 57 2-3 innings.

"I'm used to coming in when we're ahead," Smoltz said. "I
tried to blow it by him obviously, and it didn't work. I'm not
disgusted with myself, just the result."

Cal Eldred (5-4) worked a hitless eighth for the win, and Jason
Isringhausen got three straight outs for his 11th save in 12

The Cardinals scored only 14 runs on 34 hits during a 3-3
homestand, going 5-for-36 with runners in scoring position.

Matheny singled to start the fifth and Palmeiro reached when
Ramirez threw late to second on his sacrifice bunt. Williams tried
to bunt earlier in the at-bat, but was allowed to swing away.

The Cardinals have hit into two triple plays this season, also
doing it April 10 at Colorado.

One of the 12 unassisted triple plays in the modern era (since
1900) came in the 1920 World Series, when Indians second baseman
Bill Wambsganss did it in the fifth inning of Game 5 against

Ramirez allowed five hits in 7 2-3 innings, including Matheny's
second-inning homer.

Sheffield is 24-for-56 (.429) during his hitting streak with
five homers and 15 RBI. His seventh-inning sacrifice fly gave the
Braves a 2-1 lead. He also reached on an infield single in the
first, hit his 29th homer leading off the fourth and singled in the

Williams, among the league leaders with 14 wins, lasted seven
innings. He allowed two runs and eight hits.

Game notes
RF Perez saved a run with his diving catch of Vinny
Castilla's sinking drive to end the fourth. ... The Braves won the
season series 4-2. ... Pujols' hitting streak is the longest for
the Cardinals since Joe McEwing hit in 25 straight games in 1999.
... Matheny hit his fifth homer, and first since June 21. ...
Sheffield is 10-for-27 lifetime against Williams with five homers
and 10 RBI. ... It was the first unassisted triple play in Atlanta
history -- Ernie Padgett of the Boston Braves turned one on Oct. 6,
1923. ... The Cardinals have hit into two unassisted triple plays.
On May 7, 1925, Pittsburgh shortstop Glenn Wright caught Jim
Bottomley's ninth-inning line drive, stepped on second to retire
Jimmy Cooney and tagged Rogers Hornsby coming from first to end the