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Pujols (.3587) barely edges Helton (.3585)

9/29/2003

PHOENIX (AP) -- After all his extra-base hits, Albert Pujols won
the closest batting race in NL history thanks to an infield single.

The St. Louis slugger went 2-for-5 and barely held off Todd
Helton as the Cardinals beat Arizona 9-5 in their season finale.

Pujols finished at .3587 while Helton hit .3585 for Colorado -- a
difference of .00022.

"I mean, how close can it get?" St. Louis manager Tony La
Russa said.

If Pujols had not been able to beat pitcher Brandon Webb's throw
on that dribbler down the third-base line in the third inning,
Pujols would have lost the title to Helton.

Pujols was 0-for-9 in the series going into that at-bat.

"I was hustling no matter what," he said. "I knew if I could
get a hit, I was going to get another one."

He doubled down the left-field line in the seventh inning, but
when he struck out looking in the eighth, he had to wait for
Helton's final at-bat in San Diego. The Colorado slugger was walked
intentionally in the eighth inning, and the celebration began in a
corner of the Cardinals' clubhouse.

"Can you imagine? You get 590 at-bats and it comes down to one
at-bat the last day," Pujols said. "This is unbelievable."

Helton went 2-for-4 in the Rockies' 10-8 win at San Diego.

"Obviously I wasn't too pleased with that last at-bat," Helton
said. "I'm disappointed at the way it ended. Overall, it was a
good year."

Going into the day, Pujols led Helton by .35836 to .35751.

The previous tightest NL edge came in 1931 when St. Louis' Chick
Hafey beat New York's Bill Terry by .00028, according to the Elias
Sports Bureau.

Overall, it was the majors' third-closest finish for a batting
title.

In 1945, the Yankees' Snuffy Stirnweiss beat Tony Cuccinello of
the White Sox by .00009 in the AL. In 1949, Detroit's George Kell
edged Boston's Ted Williams by .00016.

Pujols is the youngest player to win the NL batting title since
Tommy Davis of Los Angeles in 1962. The St. Louis star is 23 years,
255 days and Davis was 23 years, 196 days.

Pujols also is the first right-hander to win the NL title since
Andres Galarraga in 1993.

"Third year in the big leagues and winning a batting title I
think is amazing," Pujols said, "but this is over already. I need
to take two months off and get ready for a new season."

Pujols also led the majors with 51 doubles and was among the
leaders with 43 home runs.

Mark Grace ended his major league career after 16 seasons by
playing 1 1-3 innings at first base for Arizona. He came into the
game to a huge ovation at the start of the sixth inning, then was
pulled after making a nice defensive play for the first out in the
seventh.

Grace, one of baseball's most popular players, received a long,
standing ovation as he left the field, coming out of the dugout to
wave to the crowd in a curtain call.

"A ball got hit to me. I got to make a decent play on it," he
said. "What a sendoff. A lot of people who played this game that
were better than me or worse than me didn't get a chance to get
sent off like I did. The Diamondbacks were first-class in the way
they handled this whole thing."

Grace was the last to leave the field at game's end after a hug
from La Russa.

Woody Williams pitched six innings, plus two batters, to earn
his career-best 18th victory. He shut out Arizona for six innings,
but gave up a two-run homer to Steve Finley in the seventh.

Williams (18-9), 4-1 in his last five starts, allowed two runs
on eight hits, struck out two and walked three, one intentionally.

Webb (10-9) had his second straight rough outing, allowing six
runs on five hits in four innings. He finished the season with a
2.84 ERA, fourth-best in the league.

Webb, who gave up nine earned runs in his last eight innings,
said he simply wore out.

"My mechanics and everything just get affected by the fatigue
and the grind all year," he said. "It's the longest I've gone and
the most innings I've thrown."

Jim Edmonds was 2-for-4 with a double and a 410-foot, three-run
homer off Webb in the third inning. It was Edmonds' 39th home run.
So Taguchi hit a three-run homer for St. Louis in the seventh.

Arizona's Alex Cintron was 4-for-5. He finished the season with
seven consecutive hits, tying a club record.

The Cardinals won nine of their last 12 and took their final
four series.

Game notes
Williams joined Atlanta's Russ Ortiz and Chicago's Mark
Prior as the only NL pitchers to win at least 18 games. ...
Arizona's Carlos Baerga set a franchise record with his 19th pinch
hit. ... St. Louis' Joe Girardi got his 1,100th career hit with a
ninth-inning single. ... La Russa and catcher Mike Matheny were
back after serving a two-game suspension for their roles in last
weekend's run-in with umpire Jerry Crawford in Houston. Pitching
coach Dave Duncan served his one-game suspension for the same
incident on Sunday.