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Spiezio's big hit helps Cardinals clinch tie for division

Sep 30, 2006 - 8:32 PM ST. LOUIS (Ticker) -- Scott Spiezio picked up Albert Pujols and just may have lifted the St. Louis Cardinals into the postseason.

Spiezio's three-run pinch triple in the eighth inning followed a baserunning mistake by Pujols, giving the Cardinals a 3-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers and no worse than a tie in the National League Central Division.

It was the third win in four games following a seven-game slide by St. Louis (83-77), which reduced its magic number for clinching its third straight division crown to one. Another win by the Cardinals or loss by the Houston Astros - who play at Atlanta on Saturday night - sends St. Louis to the playoffs.

For seven innings, the Cardinals looked like they were continuing the collapse that had seen them squander most of an 8 1/2-game lead with 12 to play. They were unable to solve Ben Sheets, wasting a handful of opportunities and a strong effort by starter Jeff Suppan.

"Sheets is a tough cookie," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "You get frustrated. You don't break through against him. He's got so many put-away weapons and he used them. You have to give him credit."

Pujols was the prime culprit. The MVP candidate homered in Friday's win but left a pair of runners in both the third and fifth innings before a huge gaffe on the bases in the eighth.

The slugger opened the inning with a single and went to third on Scott Rolen's one-out double off Jose Capellan. Brian Shouse (1-3) relieved and intentionally walked pinch hitter Juan Encarnacion to load the bases, bringing on Francisco Cordero.

Former Brewer Ronnie Belliard hit a liner to right field that appeared to be a hit but was snared by Geoff Jenkins. Pujols had wandered down the line and was unable to tag up after the ball was caught.

Spiezio came through, lining a shot into the right field corner that was momentarily bobbled by Jenkins as all three runners came around, giving St. Louis a 3-2 lead.

"That's what the game is all about," Spiezio said. "When I saw that I wasn't in the lineup, I said that there's a possibility that I could be hitting in the fifth, the seventh or the ninth. You just never know what situation you're going to be in whether you're going to be hitting lefthanded or righthanded. I just have to prepare myself for every situation."

The hit made a winner of Tyler Johnson (2-4), who pitched a hitless eighth. Adam Wainwright, who stepped in for injured closer Jason Isringhausen and an ineffective Braden Looper earlier this week, worked around a walk in the ninth for his third save.

"It's a team victory," Johnson said. "Suppan pitched an outstanding game. He kept us in the ballgame the whole day."

"I just really went out there and tried to keep the same game plan," Suppan said. "I faced these guys a lot this year. It was big when Spiezio came through with that hit and it was a good win. You still have to come out and win (Sunday)."

The Brewers broke up a scoreless game in the seventh. With one out, Jenkins and Corey Hart singled off Suppan. David Bell lined out but Mike Rivera walked, loading the bases.

Jeff Cirillo batted for Sheets and grounded a single up the middle for two runs. It was his 1,000th hit with the Brewers.

"I was able to just get my hands inside of it to push it up the middle," Cirillo said. "To come up big in that situation felt good. Milestones that's what they are - they're for later on down the load. Just the opportunity to get a hit in that situation is more the gratifying thing. You just want to get a hit for your team in that situation."

Suppan gave up two runs, five hits and three walks in seven innings, striking out two. Sheets allowed seven hits and a walk in six innings, fanning seven and escaping some jams.

In the third, Pujols popped out with runners at first and third. In the fifth, Sheets got him on a comebacker with runners at first and second. In the sixth, Belliard struck out and Yadier Molina bounced into a force play to again leave runners at the corners.

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