Braves 2, Pirates 1
ATLANTA (AP)—Javy Lopez wasn’t taking any pitches.
Using a more aggressive approach, Lopez went 3-for-3 with a tiebreaking homer in the seventh inning to back another strong outing by Mike Hampton, pushing the Atlanta Braves past the Pittsburgh Pirates 2-1 on Sunday.
“The last few weeks, I felt kind of strange at the plate,” Lopez said. “I felt like I had to take some pitches before taking the first swing. Today I said, ‘Forget it.’ I was swinging at anything around the plate.”
Lopez drove in both Atlanta runs, tying the game at 1 with a two-out double in the fourth. Three innings later, he led off by driving an 0-1 fastball over the center-field wall for the 37th homer of his comeback season. For good measure, he also threw out Tike Redman attempting to steal third.
“He did it all today,” manager Bobby Cox said.
Hampton (13-7) snapped a two-game losing streak by pitching four-hit ball over eight innings. He gave way to Will Cunnane, who worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his first career save.
“I felt like I made good pitches even on the hits I gave up,” said Hampton, who allowed only one hit over his final five innings. “I don’t feel they hit too many balls hard. I was able to keep the ball down and away from the middle of the strike zone.”
“I’d rather have John come back, to tell you the truth,” Cunnane said. “He’s one of the best closers in the game. Be my guest.”
Cunnane was cut by the Cubs after breaking a bone in his hand at Triple-A Iowa when he angrily punched a towel dispenser. After healing, he signed with the Braves’ Triple-A team at Richmond, pitched well and was called up to Atlanta in early August.
So far, he’s been quite a find. In 11 games, Cunnane has allowed just two earned runs for a 1.46 ERA. He’s making a strong bid to be on the Braves postseason roster.
“He’s just been super finishing up in place of Smoltzie,” Cox said. “Lefties, righties, it doesn’t matter to him. We’ve discovered a gem.”
Pittsburgh’s only run against Hampton was unearned. The left-hander outdueled Pittsburgh’s Kip Wells (7-8), who surrendered eight hits in the second complete game of his career.
“It was a well-pitched game by Hampton,” Wells said. “I was trying to feed off the good things he was doing, trying to keep our guys off the field as much as possible.”
Hampton has won six straight over Pittsburgh, his last loss coming on May 30, 1999, while pitching for the Houston Astros. Overall, he’s 10-3 in 22 career games against the Pirates.
“I love the challenge of playing the Atlanta Braves,” Pittsburgh manager Lloyd McClendon said. “We’re overmatched, but we try to keep it interesting.”
The Pirates took advantage of an error by first baseman Robert Fick to score an unearned run in the opening inning.
Leadoff hitter Redman reached when Fick bobbled a grounder down the line, the first of his two errors in the game. Jason Kendall singled with one out, and Reggie Sanders followed with an infield single to drive in Redman.
Hampton escaped the jam without any further damage, getting Craig Wilson to hit into an inning-ending double play.
Pittsburgh has scored just 14 runs in his last seven games, losing three of four during a weekend series in Atlanta.
“I thought we played extremely well in these four games,” McClendon said.“Instead of losing three of four, we could have won three of four.”
The Braves’ Class A team in Rome advanced to the South Atlantic League championship series. The R-Braves won the Southern Division title on Saturday, beating Hickory 3-1 in the deciding game of a best-of-3 series. … Wells dropped to 0-2 in three career starts against the Braves. … Hampton threw 113 pitches, Wells 102. … Hampton has allowed two earned runs or fewer in 15 of 27 starts this season. … Wells’ other complete game was a four-hit shutoutover the Chicago Cubs on May 29 last season.