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STL@ATL: Punto's triple gives Cards the lead in 11th

ATLANTA -- Trever Miller left Turner Field with a much better taste in his mouth on Friday night.

Miller, who had not retired a batter since April 15, got the final out to cap off four outstanding innings of Cardinals relief as St. Louis beat the Braves, 5-3, in 11 innings. Miller was brought in to face Nate McLouth as the tying run with two outs in the last inning, and he got the Braves outfielder to fly out to secure the victory.

"I will take anything right now," Miller said. "I've been a goat for five games in a row, and I don't like the taste of grass at all, so I'll take that."

Nick Punto's two-run triple in the 11th was the winning hit, but the stars of the game were the four Cardinals relievers who kept the Braves off the board after ace Chris Carpenter left the game. Mitchell Boggs tossed a perfect eighth, Eduardo Sanchez was brilliant in the ninth and 10th, and Jason Motte got the first two outs of the 11th before Miller finished it off.

St. Louis never led at any point before the 11th and needed a ninth-inning rally against Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel just to get it to extra innings.

"It was a hellacious game," manager Tony La Russa said. "I can't feel better about our club."

Sanchez picked up his first Major League win, and if it was going to go to any Cards reliever, he was the right man. The rookie right-hander fanned three batters and was at his best against the heart of the Atlanta order. In the 10th, he struck out lefty Jason Heyward, got a groundout from switch-hitter Chipper Jones and struck out lefty Brian McCann.

"It feels really good right now," Sanchez said via teammate Jaime Garcia, who translated. "I went out there trying to get a scoreless inning, trying to give us a chance to win, and did that. I was really focused and really excited that we got the win."

It marked the Cards' first win in a game started by Carpenter this season, and though he didn't factor in the decision, he surely couldn't have cared less. Especially since Carpenter was actually in line for the loss after seven innings, before Daniel Descalso's ninth-inning sacrifice fly tied the score.

Carpenter survived a rocky first to turn in a solid outing and took a tie score into the seventh before Nate McLouth hit a solo homer to put Atlanta ahead. Carpenter was reached for a home run and two doubles in the bottom of the first and allowed at least one hit in each of the first four innings.

Still, he hung in and made it a quality start, and certainly pitched well enough to win on plenty of nights. Carpenter struck out three and walked two, one intentional, and he did a fine job of limiting the damage against him. Atlanta totaled 12 baserunners by hit or walk against Carpenter, yet converted them into only three runs.

"I was fine all night," Carpenter said. "I made a bad pitch to Heyward that he hit out. I made a good pitch to Chipper that he hit for a double, made a bad pitch to [Dan] Uggla that he hit for a double. Besides that, all night I felt like I was pretty good until the pitch to McLouth."

Carpenter felt some numbness in his hand after his last at-bat, but he said it was gone shortly into the seventh inning. La Russa said that was not a factor in Carpenter's removal from the game.

The Cardinals waited out a sometimes erratic Tim Hudson, who had excellent stuff but inconsistent location. The veteran sinkerballer needed 99 pitches to get through six innings, and barely half of them were strikes. He didn't give the Cards a great deal to work with, and in fact it's likely something of a victory that they dinged him for two runs.

Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters held the fort for the Braves in the seventh and eighth before the bottom of the order rallied against Kimbrel. Yadier Molina led off with a single, and Ryan Theriot's single on a hit-and-run moved pinch-runner Tyler Greene to third. Descalso brought home the tying run with a sacrifice fly to left, but the Cardinals could not add any more runs until the 11th.

Braves reliever Cory Gearrin put them in position in the 11th, though, with a walk and a hit batter. Enter Punto, who had been 0-for-5 before the go-ahead triple.

"I was trying to go away with a fastball," Gearrin said. "He just got to it."

Carpenter remains at 0-2 on the year despite a perfectly respectable 3.89 ERA. St. Louis improved to 15-11 for the season and 3-1 on its current road trip. The Cardinals lead the Brewers by 1 1/2 games and the Reds by two games in the National League Central.

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