Cardinals 3, Braves 2

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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 inning.

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 outs.”

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 RBIs.

“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 battle.”

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 chances.

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 Brooklyn.

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 RBIs. 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 fifth.

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

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 RBIs. … 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 thegame.

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