Astros 5, Braves 3

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ATLANTA (AP)—Tim Redding must have liked who he saw—and didn’t see—in the Atlanta Braves lineup.

Jeff Kent sure liked who he saw on the mound.

Redding took advantage of Atlanta’s depleted lineup, pitching six strong innings, and Kent drove in three runs to lead the Houston Astros past the Braves 5-3 on Friday night.

Redding (1-3) had been knocked around in his first four starts, coming into the game with a 10.57 ERA. But he had no trouble against the Braves, who were missing Chipper Jones, Marcus Giles and Rafael Furcal from their batting order.

“It was great to get my first win, but I don’t feel I have the monkey off my back,” Redding said. “Until tonight, I probably didn’t belong in the rotation.”

If he’s feeling the pressure, just imagine what the Braves are going through without so many key players.

“When they’re here, they take a lot of the pressure. All eyes are on them,” said Adam LaRoche, who homered and drove in two runs. “When they’re missing, the other guys feel like they have to step up and do more than they have in the past. I’m doing that. I’m trying to do more than I’m capable of.”

Kent hit a two-run double in the fourth off John Thomson, followed by a homer in the sixth.

No surprise there. Kent is hitting .533 (16-of-30) in his career against the Braves starter, including three homers.

“I haven’t figured out how to get him out yet,” Thomson said. “I don’t know what his numbers are, but I know they’re ridiculous.”

The Astros won for the eighth time in nine games to maintain the best record in the National League, while Atlanta lost its season-high third in a row.

Thomson (2-2) retired the first 10 Houston hitters, but ran into major problems in the fourth. The Astros wiped out the no-hitter with five straight hits, including Kent’s double and Lance Berkman’s run-scoring single for a 3-0 lead.

Atlanta’s J.D. Drew, who missed three straight games with a sore neck, hit his 100th career homer leading off the bottom of the fourth.

But Kent canceled out Drew’s drive with one of his own, hitting a 2-0 fastball over the center-field wall for his sixth homer.

The Astros finished off Thomson in the seventh. Antonio Alfonseca came on after Craig Biggio and Adam Everett started the inning with back-to-back singles. Kent loaded the bases with an infield hit and Berkman walked, forcing in a run.

Redding warmed up before the seventh, but manager Jimy Williams didn’t let him throw a pitch. Brandon Backe was summoned from the bullpen and immediately gave up LaRoche’s second career homer.

The Astros needed two more pitchers to escape the inning, but didn’t allow any more runs. Brad Lidge struck out Mark DeRosa with two runners on, preserving the three-run lead.

While Redding surrendered only four hits and a run, he didn’t mind coming out.

“Our bullpen is one of the best in baseball,” Redding said. “They are the backbone of our staff.”

Octavio Dotel worked a scoreless ninth for his fifth save.

Jones, on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, will be activated Saturday and start in left field. The Braves still aren’t sure about Giles, who missed his second straight game with a sore elbow, or Furcal, limited to pinch-hitting duty because of a jammed finger.

“It will be nice to have them back in there,” LaRoche said. “It will make everyone more comfortable.”

Some of the regulars aren’t doing so well, either. Andruw Jones went 0-for-4, stretching his hitless streak to 17 at-bats.

Drew, a Georgia native acquired by the Braves in the offseason, hit his first career homer at Turner Field.

“That’s the first one I’ve hit in Georgia in a long time,” he said. “And not a lot of guys can say they hit 100 homers in the big leagues. One day I canlook back on that and tell my grandchildren. That will be kind of neat.”

Notes

Biggio went 1-for-4, leaving him one shy of 2,500 hits for his career. … The Braves have scored three runs or less in 13 of their 28 games. The are 1-12 in those contests. … Atlanta used it 24th different lineup. … Kent has 14 career homers against the Braves. … Atlanta dropped to 13-15—five games worse than the same point last season. … Redding’s second career start against the Braves was a lot better than his first. He gave up four runs inthree innings of a 9-0 loss in 2002.

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