Braves 5, Rockies 4

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DENVER (AP)—With his sinker again staying up in the zone at Coors Field, Mike Hampton started pitching inside.

See, he did learn something during his two miserable seasons in Colorado.

Hampton won in his return to Coors Field, earning his ninth straight victory as the Atlanta Braves held off the Colorado Rockies 5-4 Saturday night.

“My sinker wasn’t working too well so I went to pitching inside, kind of like I’ve had some success here in the past,” Hampton said. “The balls they hit just cut back across the middle and were up. When I had success I was able to bury the ball in or keep the ball down in the zone.”

Colorado signed Hampton (12-5) to the richest contract ever for a pitcher— eight years, $121 million—with hopes he could become the staff ace. Instead, his ERA soared and his confidence plummeted in the altitude of Coors Field.

After watching Hampton struggle to a 21-28 record and a 5.75 ERA in two seasons, the Rockies traded him to Atlanta during the offseason in a three-way deal that included Florida.

It was the best move of Hampton’s career.

After opening the season 3-5, he is 9-0 with a 3.47 ERA in 10 starts and hasn’t lost since giving up nine runs in a 20-1 loss to Florida on July 1.

Against the Rockies, Hampton allowed 11 hits and four runs in 6 2-3 innings in his first start at Coors since giving up 10 runs and three homers to San Francisco last Aug. 29.

“He pitched a super game,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “I know he gave up a lot of hits, but you could give up 11 here and have a shutout, too. I thought he was good. That was a well-pitched game.”

Gary Sheffield had a three-run double, Andruw Jones hit his 31st homer and Javy Lopez got three hits for Atlanta, which has won six straight over the Rockies.

The Braves scored 14 runs in two games against Colorado, matching their total the previous five games.

Jay Payton homered and drove in two runs for Colorado, which lost for just the fourth time in 21 home series this season. The Rockies had plenty of chances against their former teammate, but left 12 runners on base.

“We had him on the ropes, but it came down to getting a timely hit,” Colorado’s Larry Walker said. “We had a lot of opportunities to get big hits and we didn’t get them.”

Hampton said on Friday that he didn’t regret his time in Denver, but Rockies fans certainly acted like they did.

A chorus of boos rang out when Hampton was introduced before the game, and it got even louder when he took the mound in the first inning.

The Rockies weren’t any more hospitable in the early going.

Ronnie Belliard led off the game with a double to right, and Payton hit a solo homer to deep left in the second inning, his career-high 18th of the year. Juan Uribe also had a single that nearly hit Hampton in the head.

The third inning started with Charles Johnson hitting Hampton’s first pitch down the line in left for a double, and Belliard made it 3-0 with a two-run double to center after pitcher Chin-hui Tsao singled up the middle.

But Hampton was able to settle down.

He allowed one hit over the next three innings, giving up one run in the seventh after Todd Helton and Preston Wilson opened the inning with consecutive singles.

Hampton received high-fives from his teammates after being replaced by Trey Hodges with two outs in the seventh, but Rockies fans weren’t too impressed. They booed him every step of the way.

“I really didn’t notice too much,” said Hampton, who has allowed seven earned runs his last 31 2-3 innings. “I know there’s probably some boos and some cheers, and I understand that. If I can handle New York, I can definitely handle this place.”

John Smoltz struck out the side in the ninth for his 44th save in 47 chances.

Tsao (2-2) got off to a fast start, keeping the Braves off-balance over the first four innings.

Then he ran into trouble in the fifth.

Jones led off with a homer, and Lopez and Vinny Castilla followed with consecutive one-out singles. Tsao walked Hampton to load the bases, then Rafael Furcal made it 3-2 with a run-scoring single.

Tsao struck out Marcus Giles for the second out, but Sheffield chased him with a three-run double to the wall in left-center that put the Braves up 5-3.

Tsao allowed five runs on six hits in 4 2-3 innings.

“Tsao pitched well,” Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. “For fourinnings, he pitched better than you could have wanted him to.”

Notes

Colorado INF Mark Bellhorn and C Bobby Estalella both turned 29Saturday. … Lopez returned after missing two games with a bruised left shin.

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