ATLANTA (AP) — Alex Gonzalez got the fly ball he wanted.
It was just a bonus that the drive cleared the left-field wall.
Gonzalez hit a three-run homer in the 12th inning and the Atlanta Braves beat the St. Louis Cardinals 6-3 on Saturday to move into a tie for the NL East lead.
With runners on first and third and the outfielders playing shallow to guard against a sacrifice fly, Gonzalez hit the winning shot off Mitchell Boggs.
“I tried to hit a fly ball deep,” Gonzalez said. “I got it deep enough.”
The Braves improved their major league-best home record to 51-20 and grabbed a share of the division lead with the Philadelphia Phillies, who lost to the New York Mets 4-3.
Albert Pujols had three RBIs for St. Louis, giving him 102 for the year and 10 straight seasons with more than 100 RBIs.
“I play aggressive,” Pujols said when asked about the milestone. “Nobody can take that away from me. … I try to do everything I can to help my team.”
Gonzalez was 0 for 5 before connecting for his fifth homer since he joined Atlanta in a July trade with Toronto. He struck out with the bases loaded to end the first inning and struck out again in the seventh with two runners on base.
Gonzalez made the most of his one hit.
“He crushed that ball,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “He had a few chances today and he didn’t get it done, but boy he did in that inning. He’s a great player.”
Boggs said he “didn’t back off” when facing Gonzalez but left the pitch too high.
“That was everything I had,” Boggs said.
Catcher Brian McCann, who called the win “the funnest game of the year,” said the Braves were not watching the Phillies’ score.
“We’re not looking at that game,” he said. “We just have to keep playing.”
St. Louis is facing an uphill climb to return to the playoffs. The Cardinals were six games back of NL Central-leading Cincinnati and 6½ back in the wild-card race before Saturday’s games.
Boggs (2-3) walked Rick Ankiel with one out in the 12th and pinch-hitter Eric Hinske followed with a single up the middle, putting runners on the corners.
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa visited the mound but left Boggs in to face Gonzalez, who now has 22 homers on the year.
Rookie Craig Kimbrel (3-0) struck out two in a perfect 12th to get the win.
Jason Heyward hit a leadoff drive off Dennys Reyes in the seventh to give Atlanta a 3-2 lead. The rookie is batting .429 (36 for 84) with five homers and 15 RBIs in his last 21 games.
The Cardinals tied it in the eighth, taking advantage when third baseman Martin Prado bobbled Pedro Feliz’s grounder. Prado’s one-out error loaded the bases for Pujols, who drove in Brendan Ryan with a grounder off Peter Moylan.
Pujols also had a tying two-run double in the sixth.
Georgia native Jake Westbrook pitched six innings for the Cardinals, yielding two runs and seven hits. The right-hander, who was acquired in a trade with Cleveland on July 31, walked five and struck out three.
Atlanta’s Tommy Hanson gave up two runs and five hits in seven innings.
Westbrook, who walked eight batters in 44 innings over his first seven starts with the Cardinals, issued consecutive walks to Derrek Lee and Nate McLouth to force in a run in the first. McLouth added a run-scoring triple in the fifth.
Westbrook lives in Danielsville, Ga., about 90 minutes from Atlanta. He pitched only two days after his wife, Heather, gave birth to a girl, Harper, in Atlanta.
Westbrook was making his second career appearance in Atlanta, following a loss with the Indians on June 19, 2004.
NOTES: La Russa said LHP Trever Miller will meet the team in St. Louis after the series. La Russa said Miller, who has soreness in his left elbow, is making progress and is expecting to play catch on Sunday. … Former Cardinals slugger Ankiel ended a streak of strikeouts in nine straight at-bats when he grounded out to end the ninth inning. … Attendance was 51,078, the season’s second-largest total at Turner Field, trailing only the opening day total of 53,081 against the Cubs.
CHARLES ODUM / The Associated Press