ST. LOUIS (AP) - As a person who lives in the St. Louis suburb of Belleville, Ill., Chicago Cubs pitcher Randy Wells understands the importance of Albert Pujols to the Cardinals and their fans.
Wells graciously stepped aside and let Pujols enjoy a 45-second standing ovation during his first at-bat Sunday in the Cardinals' 3-2 win over the Cubs.
``It's his town and he definitely deserves it,' Wells said. ``It was a nice moment for him. I respect Albert. Everyone respects Albert.'
Making what might have been his final home appearance, Pujols went 0 for 4, stopping his streak of reaching base at 40 successive games. The three-time NL MVP, who is eligible for free agency after the season, stepped out of the batter's box and tipped his helmet while Wells patiently waited.
Pujols was honored by the gesture.
``He understood what was happening,' Pujols said. ``I appreciate that.'
After the crowd settled down, Wells got Pujols to hit into a double play that ended the inning.
``It was pretty emotional, obviously,' he said. ``I just wanted to make sure that I stayed focused.'
Pujols has been noncommittal on his future, tending to focus on the present.
``Right now, I'm still a Cardinal,' he said. ``I'm going to do my best to help this organization to the next level. That's my job. If I get distracted, thinking about what's going to happen this offseason, I don't think I'm doing my job.'
Hours later, St. Louis pulled within one game of the Atlanta Braves in the NL wild-card race as Rafael Furcal hit a tiebreaking home run in the eighth inning.
St. Louis trailed Atlanta by 10 1-2 games on Aug. 26, but the Cardinals have won 15 of their last 20.
Trailing 2-1, St. Louis tied the score in the seventh on Yadier Molina's career-best 14th homer. The following inning, Furcal homered off Wells (7-6).
Octavio Dotel (5-3) retired two batters in the eighth, and Jason Motte pitched a perfect ninth for his ninth save in 13 chances.
Cardinals starter Edwin Jackson allowed two runs and five hits in seven innings. Wells, who grew up in the St. Louis suburb of Belleville, Ill., gave up three runs in eight innings.
The solo home runs ruined a strong effort by Wells, who gave up three runs and six hits in eight innings.
``It's not a very good way to end the season,' Wells said. ``It's going to leave a bad taste in my mouth. The two homers came on cutters.'
Geovany Soto's sacrifice fly put the Cubs ahead in the fourth, but Jackson's sacrifice fly tied it in the fifth.
``We hit some balls hard, but that's baseball,' Chicago manager Mike Quade said. ``But (Wells) threw the ball great when we needed him to.'
NOTES: Cubs SS Starlin Castro leads the NL with 203 hits. He has reached safely in a career-high 37 consecutive games.
The Associated Press News Service
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