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Mulder gets win on birthday

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The Atlanta Braves appreciated Albert Pujols'
milestone home run a lot more than he did.

Pujols became the first player in major-league history to hit 30 home runs in each of his first five seasons, helping Mark Mulder
and the St. Louis Cardinals end John Smoltz's eight-game winning streak with an 11-3 victory on Friday night.

"You don't know how good he is until you sit in the dugout," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He looks deadly."

Smoltz (12-6) lost for the first time since June 6, allowing five runs and six hits in six innings with six strikeouts and two intentional walks. He had a 2.05 ERA during the streak, which had been tied with Cardinals 16-game winner Chris Carpenter for the longest in the NL. He went at least seven innings in nine of 10 starts.

Pujols hit a two-run shot in the first for his 190th homer since breaking in with the Cardinals in 2001. His total of 160 homers over the first four seasons is second behind Ralph Kiner's 168 from 1946-49. His five-year total is tied for second with Eddie Mathews, 25 behind Kiner.

The Cardinals retrieved the ball from a fan in the left field stands in exchange for a ball autographed by Pujols. Not that Pujols thought it was a big deal.

"If I can stay healthy, I know I'm capable of doing that," Pujols said. "So I don't think about it. The thing I want is a championship, that's what I want to appreciate at the end of my career."

Manager Tony La Russa appreciates it now.

"He is a classic high-average hitter because he takes a relentless approach every at-bat," La Russa said. "Every at-bat he's the same way. He battles the great pitchers, he battles the real good ones, the good ones, the ones that are trying to make it."

Pujols is 5-for-12 against Smoltz with two homers. Smoltz said the fastball that Pujols punished "was a terrible pitch, just a flat-out terrible pitch."

"Sometimes 90 percent of the guys you might get away with it once in a while," Smoltz said. "You're not getting away with it with him. He's dominant, he really is."

Pujols was intentionally walked and scored on Abraham Nunez's two-run single in the sixth, giving him a major league-leading 93 runs.

Jim Edmonds and So Taguchi homered for the Cardinals, who won the opener of a three-game series between NL division leaders in front of a sellout crowd of 47,838. Taguchi added a two-run single
and Einar Diaz and Scott Seabol also drove in a run in a five-run eighth for St. Louis, which has won five of seven and handed the Braves only their fourth loss in 13 games.

Pitching on his birthday for the first time in his career, Mulder (13-5) scattered seven hits in seven innings with three strikeouts and two walks to win his fifth straight decision over eight starts. The 28-year-old has a 2.05 ERA during the streak.

"It was a little weird," Mulder said. "My parents and everybody is here, so I'm glad I pitched well or I'd be in a bad mood right now."

The Braves had two hits in the first inning and three in the fourth but settled for only one run -- Wilson Betemit's RBI single in the fourth. Mulder is 75-9 in 95 career starts when his team
scores at least four runs.

Edmonds, who is 12-for-31 during a nine-game hitting streak with four homers, hit his 21st with one out in the fourth for a 3-1 lead. Taguchi hit his seventh, and second in three days, leading off the seventh against Jim Brower.

Game notes
Whitey Herzog, who led the Cardinals to their last World Series championship in 1982, participated in the Busch Stadium countdown when he removed his jersey number, 24, from the right
field wall. Herzog, who produced three pennants in the 1980s, received a standing ovation during a tour around the warning track on a golf cart. ... Cardinals starters lead the majors with 60 wins. ... Smoltz is 9-11 against the Cardinals, one of only five teams he has a losing record against. He's 10-14 against the Giants, 0-2 against the Blue Jays and 0-1 against the Angels and Tigers. ... The Cardinals are 10-10 against the NL East after going 19-11 last year. ... The Cardinals have had 26 sellouts and 19 straight crowds over 40,000.