The Atlanta Braves are getting contributions from unlikely places as they stay in the thick of the NL East race.
Atlanta looks to continue its winning ways despite injuries to key players as they continue a four-game series with the Philadelphia Phillies at Turner Field.
With players like All-Star Chipper Jones and Marcus Giles missing time with injuries, and other former All-Stars like Greg Maddux, Javy Lopez and Gary Sheffield playing for other teams this season, it’s up the rest of the Braves to keep the team in the mix for a 13th straight division title.
Julio Franco is one of those players stepping up for Atlanta this season.
The 45-year-old Franco broke his own record this season for being the oldest player to hit a pinch-hit home run, and he’s the first non-pitcher to play at this age since Carlton Fisk, who caught 25 games for the White Sox in 1993.
In Thursday’s 8-4 win over the Phillies, Franco became the oldest player in major league history to hit a grand slam, connecting in the first inning to lead Atlanta past Philadelphia.
Johnny Estrada is another player helping the Braves win, as he has been brilliant in his first season replacing Lopez as the starting catcher. Estrada drove in three runs Thursday for the Braves, who won for the third time in four games.
Estrada, one of the Phillies’ top prospects traded to the Braves for Kevin Millwood before the 2003 season, and Franco both started their careers in Philadelphia. Franco made his debut in 1982 with the Phillies at 23.
Eric Milton will try to help the Phillies end their four-game losing streak. The left-hander, acquired from Minnesota in the offseason, is coming off his best start of the year on Sunday as he beat the Braves 4-1.
“I want to be healthy for every start,” said Milton, coming off knee surgery that cost him most of the 2003 season. “That’s my goal. And I’d like to get to 200 innings. I’m getting there. I’m building up arm strength and getting close. I know I’m pitching well, but I’ve got more to offer and can still improve.”