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Pujols' three-run blast seals deal for Cards

LOS ANGELES -- When it was over, after Jason Isringhausen
struck out Alex Cora to put the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL
championship series and eliminate the Los Angeles Dodgers, there
was no immediate celebration by the winners and the losers didn't
walk back to their clubhouse.

Instead, the Dodgers went out on the field to greet their
conquerers and shake their hands.

"That's the first time I've seen a team doing that to the other
ballclub when they were the losing ballclub, and I think that was
very special," St. Louis star Albert Pujols said.

Pujols homered and drove in four runs Sunday night in the
Cardinals' 6-2 victory, giving them a 3-1 win in the first-round NL
playoff series and advancing them to a matchup with Atlanta or
Houston starting Wednesday night in St. Louis.

"They're probably going to win the World Series," Dodgers
closer Eric Gagne said. "We got beat by the world champions."

Not yet, but the Cardinals sure played like champions in
advancing to the NLCS for the third time in five years, outscoring
the Dodgers 22-12.

Jeff Suppan settled down after a shaky start to pitch seven
strong innings and Pujols put the Cardinals ahead for good by
hitting a tiebreaking three-run homer off loser Wilson Alvarez in
the fourth inning.

"I think it was good sportsmanship, and I was glad to be a part
of it. It's great for the game," Suppan said after the handshakes
were over.

"Everybody just wanted to go out there and just wish them
luck," Dodgers star Adrian Beltre said.

While common at the end of playoff series in the NHL, teams
shaking hands on the field after a series is a rarity in baseball --
it happened after Minnesota's 10-inning win over Atlanta in Game 7
of the 1991 World Series.

"I think it was a professional show of class between two very
classy organizations," Dodgers manager Jim Tracy said. "To play
this series the way it was played with the intensity it was played,
it said a lot."

St. Louis, a major league-best 105-57 during the regular season,
is trying to become the first team with the top regular-season
record to win the World Series since the 1998 New York Yankees.

"We showed a lot of heart, just like they did," said
Cardinals' outfielder Larry Walker, who had two hits, walked twice
and scored three runs in the finale. "We have an opportunity, but
we want to stay at an even keel -- except for this half hour here
when we can act like a bunch of fools."

Pujols had two hits, a walk and four RBI. He
went 5-for-15 with two homers in the series.

"Albert is a tremendous player, he does amazing things out
there," Suppan said. "With him and everyone else, it's the best
team I've been on."

As Pujols' towering fly ball sailed just over left fielder
Jayson Werth into the lower left-field stands, the raucous crowd of
56,268 -- the largest in Dodger Stadium history -- went silent.
Pujols, one of baseball's best hitters, delivered on a 3-1 pitch
for his second homer of the series.

"From the way he swung at that pitch, something tells me he
didn't hit a strike," Tracy said.

Scott Rolen, the on-deck hitter, went 0-for-12 in the series. He
grounded out following Pujols' homer.

Suppan, who went 10-1 with a 3.55 ERA in 14 road starts this
season, allowed two hits in seven innings and also gave himself
some unexpected support at the plate -- he singled twice in three
at-bats after going 4-for-57 during the season.

"To have my family here today, it's just been a great
experience," said Suppan, who grew up in the area and lives in
Granada Hills. "They're all supportive, and a little nervous. I
told them to breathe a lot during the game."

Werth, the second batter Suppan faced, homered to give Los
Angeles a 1-0 lead. The Cardinals tied it in the second off Odalis
Perez on a homer by Reggie Sanders one pitch after Jim Edmonds was
thrown out stealing.

St. Louis got another run in the third, when Perez was chased
after two walks and a one-out, RBI single by Edgar Renteria. Alvarez
relieved and struck out Edmonds and Sanders.

Beltre's sacrifice fly tied it 2-all in the fourth, but
the Dodgers had only two more runners -- Cesar Izturis got a one-out
infield single in the eighth, and Milton Bradley drew a two-out
walk in the ninth.

Perez gave up three hits and five walks in 2 1/3 innings, but
only two runs as the Cardinals stranded five and had a runner
thrown out stealing.

Pujols added a run for the Cardinals with an RBI single in the
seventh.

"They have a lot of weapons," Tracy said. "They're going to
be a formidable opponent whoever they play against."

Los Angeles has not won a postseason series since beating
Oakland in the 1988 World Series.

"We got beat tonight by a better team," Dodgers first baseman
Shawn Green said. "They're the best team we faced all year in both
leagues. We did a lot of great things this year."

Game notes
Werth's homer was the Dodgers' seventh against St. Louis --
their most in a playoff series since they hit eight in the 1978 NL
championship series. ... The Cardinals ran into an out in the
fourth after what appeared to be a bad call, but it wound up making
no difference. Suppan singled with one out and Tony Womack followed
with a liner to right that Bradley appeared to catch. But as second
base umpire Brian O'Nora signaled safe, Suppan headed back to first
and was forced at second. Pujols homered later in the inning. ...
Pujols made a terrific fielding play as well, diving to knock down
Cora's hard grounder, scrambling to his feet and beating Cora to
first base.