08/10/2003 7:36 PM ET
Triple play can't get Braves a win
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
Furcal turns unassisted triple play
ST. LOUIS -- On the rare occasion that John Smoltz is forced to discuss an unsuccessful outing, he is usually forthright and stoic in defeat.
But after giving up a decisive two-out, eighth-inning homer to Albert Pujols in the Cardinals 3-2 win over the Braves on Sunday night at Busch Stadium, the Braves closer was obviously discouraged and distraught.
"I'm not disgusted with myself; I'm disgusted with the results," Smoltz said after Pujols, who has a Major League-best .368 batting average and 31 homers, became just the second player to take him deep this year.
After Horacio Ramirez's impressive evening ended when Eduardo Perez hit a game-tying solo homer with two outs in the eighth, Smoltz was summoned out of the bullpen to face the ever-dangerous Pujols in a non-save situation.
"I was trying to blow it by him," Smoltz said of the fastball. "Obviously it didn't work."
Smoltz, whose only other loss this season came when he entered a June 19 game against the Phillies in the eighth inning, seemed disturbed that he was brought into the game in a non-save situation.
When asked if this was indeed what was bothering him, Smoltz put some items into his suitcase, shook his head from side-to-side and said "I don't know" in a deflated tone.
Pujols, who extended his career-best hitting streak to 24 games with the homer, had one hit in his previous five at-bats against Smoltz, who had allowed just one earned run in the 18 appearances that had followed his loss to the Phillies.
"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."
Pujols' heroics created a euphoric roar from the home crowd, who began chants of "MVP" shortly after the homer had landed in the Braves bullpen. The memorable homer gave the Cardinals their second consecutive win over a team that has defeated them eight straight times before Saturday.
"It was a well played game between two teams tonight," Ramirez said. "Usually, solo homers don't beat you. But tonight, they did."
All three of the Cardinals' runs came courtesy of two-out solo homers with the first one coming from Mike Matheny in the second inning off Ramirez, who failed to win for the sixth consecutive start, despite allowing just two earned runs on five hits in 7 2/3 innings.
"That's probably the best game I've pitched all year," Ramirez said. "I felt like I was in control all night long. Actually, both of those pitches, I thought were pretty good."
Pujols' heroics spoiled Ramirez's fine outing and also put a damper on the fact that Rafael Furcal turned the 11th unassisted triple play in Major League history in the fifth inning.
After a leaping Furcal grabbed a Woody Williams line drive, he immediately went to second base to retire Mike Matheny, who had broken toward third base, and then completed the triple play by tagging Orlando Palmeiro, who was approximately 20 feet away from second base.
"I'm very excited because this is something you don't see every day," Furcal said.
Furcal's second-inning double was just one of two hits the Braves would record off Williams in the first three innings. But Sheffield got things started in the fourth with a 390-foot leadoff homer that erased a 1-0 lead the Cardinals had gained courtesy of Matheny's homer.
Sheffield, whose 29 homers equals Andruw Jones for the second-most on the team, would give the Braves a short-lived lead with a seventh-inning sacrifice fly that scored Furcal, who had reached on a single and advanced to third on a Marcus Giles single to right.
"Anything can happen when you have the type of power they have and the type of power we have," Braves manager Bobby Cox said of a rare loss by Smoltz. "Sandy Koufax could have done the same thing out there tonight."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.