Braves 7, Astros 4

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ATLANTA (AP)—Shane Reynolds tried to approach it as just another game. It didn’t work out that way.

Reynolds beat his former team for the first time, pitching seven solid innings as the Atlanta Braves defeated the Houston Astros 7-4 Thursday night.

“I definitely wanted to win this game,” Reynolds said. “It’s not like I spent a year or two over there. I was there for all or part of 12 seasons. There are guys over there I spent my whole career with. To pitch against them now is tough.”

A six-run first helped calm his nerves. Javy Lopez capped the big inning with his 30th homer, a three-run shot into the left-field seats.

“That allowed me to go out there and throw strikes,” Reynolds said. “I wasn’t out there nitpicking, trying hit the corners.”

Reynolds (9-5) didn’t walk anyone for the second start in a row and made only one major mistake, surrendering a three-run homer to Jeff Bagwell in the sixth. Darren Holmes and John Smoltz each pitched a scoreless inning to finish off the Astros, with Smoltz earning his 40th save in 43 chances.

Smoltz broke his own record as the fastest pitcher to record 40 saves. Last year, he got his 40th save on Aug. 8, en route to breaking the NL record with 55.

Reynolds first came up to Houston in 1992. The right-hander had spent his entire career in the Astros’ organization until the waning days of spring training, when he was cut because the team wanted to give some of its younger pitchers a chance.

“Obviously, he has been pitching well all season,” said Houston starter Wade Miller, who lasted only two innings. “We miss him.”

Reynolds, who caught on with the Braves about two weeks into the season, started a May 1 game at Houston. He gave up five runs in 5 1-3 innings and didn’t get a decision.

The right-hander is closing in on double-figure wins despite a 5.61 ERA. He can thank his teammates for that anomaly—the Braves are averaging seven runs per game when Reynolds is on the mound.

“Some years you get that, some years you don’t,” Reynolds said. “You’ve got to take advantage of the times when you do.”

The game between division-leading clubs came just hours after both let the trade deadline pass without making moves. Now, any players who are dealt would have to clear waivers, making future trades more difficult.

The Braves, who have the best record in baseball, were in the market for pitching help, but GM John Schuerholz didn’t find a trade to his liking. That’s just fine with Lopez, who reached 30 homers for the second time in his career.

“All I know is the less they play with our chemistry, the better team we are,” he said. “Right now, there’s no need to touch this team. There’s no need to fool around with our chemistry.”

Bagwell was surprised the Astros didn’t pull off a deal, especially with ace Roy Oswalt on the disabled list for the third time this year because of a strained groin.

“We have always made trades,” he said. “The problem we have is we lost Oswalt. We have to make up for that.”

The Astros certainly looked as though they could use some pitching help. Miller (7-10) struggled to find the strike zone and was lifted after the second, having surrendered six hits and five earned runs.

“My fastball didn’t have any location on it,” he said. “I didn’t feel I had it tonight. I tried to make adjustments, but it didn’t work.”

Miller set himself up for trouble when he walked the first two hitters. Gary Sheffield’s RBI single made it 1-0, and left fielder Orlando Merced dropped Chipper Jones’ fly ball near the foul line for an error that loaded the bases. Andruw Jones followed with a single up the middle, driving in two more runs.

Miller finally got his first out, retiring Robert Fick on a popup, but Lopez blew open the game with a high drive that landed in the left-field seats and made it 6-0. The Braves catcher closed within four homers of his career high: 34 in 1998.

“I’m know about that,” Lopez said, “but I’m not thinking about it. I just want to let things happen.”

Bagwell drove in all four runs for the Astros. He also had an RBI single in the fourth.

The Braves didn’t do much after Miller was yanked, managing just one run and six hits against a trio of relievers. Dan Miceli, acquired from the New York Yankees on Tuesday, pitched two scoreless innings in his Houston debut.

Marcus Giles got back on track after his streak of nine straight hits ended Wednesday. The Atlanta second baseman went 2-for-4, scoring a run in the fourth after tripling into the right-field corner. He is 15-of-23 over the last fivegames.

Notes

Merced made his second straight start in place of Lance Berkman, who is bothered by a sore right knee. … Reynolds had a sacrifice bunt in each of his three at-bats. … Reynolds threw 77 pitches during his seven-inning stint, just nine more than Miller needed to make it through two innings. … Smoltz required only four pitches in a 1-2-3 ninth. … Lopez has hit 20 homers at Turner Field after hitting only one at home all of last season. … The Braves won their 20th game in July, equaling the Atlanta record for most victories inthe month.

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