Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Furcal turns three to make record book

Triple play only 12th all-time

The Associated Press

ST. LOUIS - Rafael Furcal has joined one of baseball's ultra-exclusive clubs.

The Atlanta Braves shortstop turned just the 12th unassisted triple play in modern major league history Sunday night, a feat so rare the game once went 41 years without one.

"It was a big play at the time because the game was 1-1," Furcal said. "I thought the play had a real flow. I thought we would have momentum after that."

On a 1-1 count, manager Tony La Russa removed the bunt sign and gave Cardinals pitcher Woody Williams, who's batting .250 with seven RBI, the green light to swing away with runners on first and second and nobody out in the fifth inning. He also started the runners in an attempt to avoid a double play.

"I thought it was the play to make, but that's one of the risks, a ball on a line in the infield," La Russa said. "It's a bad memory, so I don't really think about it much."

Furcal leaped to snare Williams' liner, stepped on second base to double up Mike Matheny, and tagged out Orlando Palmeiro as he made a futile attempt to get back to first.

It was 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.

Detroit Tigers first baseman Johnny Neun made one in 1927, but there wasn't another until Washington Senators shortstop Ron Hansen did it in 1968. Another 14 years passed before Phillies second baseman Mickey Morandini joined the ultra exclusive club.

On Sunday, the triple play had competition for dramatics from the Cardinals' eighth-inning rally on back-to-back homers from Eduardo Perez and Albert Pujols. Pujols connected for the game-winning blast against John Smoltz, the major league saves leader, for a 3-2 victory.

"I don't know what else anybody could want in a game," the Braves' Gary Sheffield said. "You had a playoff atmosphere, a triple play and home runs.

"It was as exciting for the players as it was for the fans."

Ironically, it might have been Furcal's misplay that led to the scenario. Matheny singled to start the fifth and Palmeiro reached on his sacrifice bunt when Furcal was late covering second on an attempted forceout as second baseman Brian Giles backed up first.

Furcal made amends.

Palmeiro didn't let being tripled off bother him.

"I don't think the guys were deflated. I know I wasn't," Palmeiro said. "I was hoping we'd get some stuff go our way and it sure did."

The St. Louis Cardinals went on to beat the Braves 3-2.

MR. CUB: Mark Prior (10-5) struck out nine and walked one Sunday en route to his second complete game of the season and third in 40 career starts as the Cubs beat the Dodgers 3-1.

Prior lowered his ERA to 2.76 in 21 starts. The last time a Cubs full-time starter finished a season with an ERA under 3.00 was 1992, when Greg Maddux finished at 2.18 in 35 starts and Mike Morgan finished at 2.55 in 34 starts.

OLDIES, BUT GOODIES: Roger Clemens and Jamie Moyer faced off Sunday in the majors' first matchup of starting pitchers over 40 years old in more than a decade Sunday.

The last time it happened was when Frank Tanana started for the New York Mets against Charlie Hough of the Florida Marlins in July, 1993.

The last such matchup in the AL occurred when Tommy John started for the Yankees against Don Sutton of the California Angels in August, 1987, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"There was a lot of grunting and groaning in the bullpen today," Clemens said.

ROGELL DEAD: Former major league shortstop Billy Rogell, who helped the Detroit Tigers win the 1935 World Series and later became a city councilman, died at age 98.

Rogell died Saturday of pneumonia, his family said.

After 15 years in the major leagues - with the Tigers, Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs - Rogell was a councilman for nearly 40 years.

He played for the Tigers from 1930 to 1939, teaming in the infield with Hank Greenberg, Charlie Gehringer and Marv Owen. In 1934, they knocked in at least 100 runs apiece, a total of 462 RBI for the infield.

SHORT HOPS: Anaheim lost for the eighth time in nine games Sunday and fell to 5-20 since the All-Star break after a 3-1 setback to Cleveland on Sunday.

• Minnesota won for the 20th time in 21 games against Detroit in a 4-3 victory on Sunday, sending the Tigers to a season-worst 55 games under .500.

• Boston catcher Jason Varitek matched a career high (set in 1999) with his 20th homer Sunday.

• C.C. Sabathia became the first Indians pitcher with at least 10 wins in each of his first three seasons since Dennis Eckersley in 1975-77.

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