Pascual Matos got to be the hero -- twice.
Denied a three-run homer when the umpires reversed a call, the rookie catcher followed with a two-run single in the eighth inning for his first major league hit, giving the Atlanta Braves a 5-3 victory over the visiting Houston Astros last night.
"If I die tomorrow," Matos said, "that's okay."
The Braves, who spent the previous six days in second place, reclaimed the top spot in the NL East by a half-game over the New York Mets, who lost to the Dodgers.
Matos was called up from Class AAA Richmond last weekend when Eddie Perez dropped his appeal of four-game suspension. Though certain to go back to the minors after Perez returns, Matos provided one of the most memorable moments of the season after entering the game when the Braves used a pinch runner for starting catcher Greg Myers.
Matos, who was 0 for 7 in his major league career, batted against Doug Henry (1-2) with one out in the eighth and runners at second and third in a 3-3 game. On the first pitch, Matos sent a towering drive down the left field line that was ruled a homer by third-base umpire Larry Vanover.
"I saw it curve in front of the foul pole five or seven inches," Matos said. "When he called it fair, I told myself to run the bases fast or maybe he'll change his mind."
Matos made it to the dugout and began celebrating with his teammates, but the Astros were already arguing the call with the entire umpiring crew. After a brief discussion, they called Matos back to the plate.
Matos grabbed his bat and returned to the field, disappointed by his change of fortune but having another chance to come through with the big hit. He did, lining a single past diving Russ Johnson at third to score Ryan Klesko and Andruw Jones.
"I told myself, `Oh, man, I've got to hit again,' " Matos recalled. "But I tried again to hit the ball hard and I got it between third and shortstop. I was still happy."
John Rocker worked the ninth for his 23rd save.
"I don't think we're intimidated by these guys," Houston's Bill Spiers said. "Tonight they got the big hits and we didn't. It was a fight all the way."
Houston's lead in the NL Central dropped to two games over Cincinnati, but the Astros still have the best record (69-45) in the league.
CARDINALS 12, PHILLIES 6: Fernando Tatis hit his third grand slam of the season and visiting St. Louis crashed the J.D. Drew booing festival.
Tatis, who had hit his only two previous grand slams in the same inning April 23 at Los Angeles, hit his third on Billy Brewer's first pitch in a five-run fourth. With three slams this year, Tatis tied Jim Bottomley (1925) and Keith Hernandez (1977) for the club record.
Drew, the Cardinals outfielder who is hated in Philadelphia because he refused to sign with the Phillies after the 1997 draft, did not play because of a bruised right hand. He was booed loudly during batting practice by a crowd of 46,102, even though Cardinals bullpen catcher Jeff Murphy tried to decoy fans by wearing Drew's jersey.
DIAMONDBACKS 10, CUBS 7: Matt Williams hit a tiebreaking single to key a six-run eighth inning and visiting Arizona overcame Sammy Sosa's 43rd home run to beat Chicago. Sosa pulled within one of major league homer leader Mark McGwire.
Sosa had been in a 1-for-22 slump since last connecting on Aug. 4.
BREWERS 7, ROCKIES 6: In Milwaukee, Mark Loretta singled home the winning run in the ninth inning in a game that had 10 runs scored in the final two innings.
"It was a little wild," Milwaukee Manager Phil Garner said. "A lot of things happened in the course of this game. But a win is a win for us right now."
DODGERS 9, METS 2: Kevin Brown allowed two hits in seven scoreless innings before leaving with a blister and Los Angeles knocked host New York out of first place.
REDS 4, PIRATES 2: Denny Neagle limited his former Pittsburgh teammates to one hit in seven-plus innings -- his longest start of the season -- as Cincinnati won on the road again.
MARLINS 5, GIANTS 4: In Miami, Mike Lowell hit his first career grand slam and Dave Berg hit an RBI single in the ninth inning as Florida rallied from a four-run deficit.
EXPOS 8, PADRES 0: In Montreal, Jeremy Powell gave up six hits and Jose Vidro hit his first career grand slam.