Braves 3, Expos 2

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ATLANTA (AP)—Montreal closer Rocky Biddle couldn’t find the plate, so Rafael Furcal planned to be extra patient.

It paid off.

Biddle hit Javy Lopez with a pitch to force in the tying run and walked Furcal with the bases loaded in the ninth inning, handing the Atlanta Braves a 3-2 win over the Expos on Saturday night.

“We’ll take it,” Furcal said.

He fell behind in the count 0-2 to Biddle (3-3), then worked it back to 3-2. After fouling off a pitch, Furcal took one high and outside, allowing Robert Fick to score the winning run.

“I was going to the plate with a lot of patience,” Furcal said. “I was looking for a pitch right down the middle.

“It was a pretty good game for us. We were losing 2-1 the whole game.”

Jung Keun Bong (6-1) pitched a scoreless ninth for the Braves, who stretched their lead in the NL East to 6 1/2 games over the Philadelphia Phillies. The Expos are eight games back.

“I wasn’t thinking about a tie,” Bong said. “We had to come back and win this game.”

The game was delayed by rain for more than an hour after the fifth inning.

Orlando Cabrera and Brad Wilkerson hit back-to-back homers off Greg Maddux to give Montreal a 2-1 lead, but Atlanta came back against Biddle.

Chipper Jones singled to lead off the ninth, and moved to third an out later when Cabrera misplayed a grounder to short by Fick. The ball rolled all the way to the outfield.

Vinny Castilla walked to load the bases, and Biddle hit Lopez with a pitch to force in Jones with the tying run. After pinch-hitter Marcus Giles struck out, Furcal got his walk, and the Braves got their victory.

“That’s the way it goes,” Biddle said. “I was trying to throw a sinker in, and it got in too far and hit Javy. I was trying to get Furcal to hit the ball on the ground at somebody. I sure wasn’t trying to walk him.”

The ending spoiled a pitching duel between Maddux and Montreal’s Javier Vazquez, who retired the first nine batters and pitched two-hit ball before leaving after the delay. He struck out five and walked two.

Maddux, who hasn’t won in three starts, gave up six hits in seven innings, including the two solo home runs in the fourth. In his previous two outings, he allowed 11 runs in nine innings, but he appeared to have his stuff back against Montreal.

He needed only 64 pitches—49 for strikes—and because his pitch count was so low, he stayed in for two innings after the rain delay.

Maddux left without speaking with reports, but pitching coach Leo Mazzone said the difference in his performance was very subtle.

“Just a matter of inches one way, in, out, up or down,” Mazzone said. “Very minute with him. That’s the same Greg Maddux, old or new. He’s doing fine. He’s got a lot of innings to pitch the rest of the way.”

But Maddux made two mistakes in the fourth. With two outs, Cabrera hit a hanging breaking ball into the seats in left, his 12th homer of the season, and Wilkerson followed by hitting a 400-foot drive to left-center to give Montreal a 2-0 lead.

It was the second time this season the Expos had back-to-back homers; Jose Vidro and Wilkerson did it June 7 against the Texas Rangers.

Meanwhile, Vazquez cruised through the first three innings, striking out five and not allowing any hard hit balls. He unraveled a bit in the fourth, though, and the Braves scored a run to get to 2-1.

Furcal hit a bouncer up the middle that was gloved by Cabrera at shortstop, but the throw to first was late. Mark DeRosa followed with a sharp single, and Gary Sheffield walked to load the bases.

Chipper Jones drove in Furcal with a sacrifice fly, and a walk to Andruw Jones loaded the bases again. After falling behind Fick 3-0, Vazquez got him to hit into a double play to end the inning.

“I felt good after the rain,” Vazquez said. “It wasn’t like I wanted to throw five innings. I’d thrown 70-something pitches, and Maddux had thrown30.”


Montreal RF Ron Calloway made a diving catch of a blooper by Henry Blanco in the third to keep the Braves hitless to that point. … Maddux’s streak of 15 straight seasons with at least 15 victories is in jeopardy. He’s won only once in his past five starts, but he’s a long way from the worst losing streak of his career. In 1990, he lost eight straight when he was withthe Chicago Cubs.

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