Ortiz stellar as Braves shut out Expos

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP)—The Atlanta Braves are back in the hunt in the NL East.

Russ Ortiz pitched seven scoreless innings to win his third straight decision and put the Atlanta Braves over .500 for the first time in nearly a month with a 1-0 victory over the Montreal Expos on Tuesday night.

“That was our goal going into the All-Star break,” closer John Smoltz said. “We still got some more games to go, so hopefully we can keep it up and stay above (.500).”

Smoltz came on to get the final out of the eighth and pitched the ninth for his 15th save of the season.

Atlanta (42-41) has won nine of 12 since June 24, when the Braves were 32-38. They last had a winning record at 29-28 on June 9.

“I don’t know what our record is, I just worry how many games we’re behind,” said manager Bobby Cox, whose team is 2 1/2 games behind Philadelphia.

After allowing back-to-back singles to Brad Wilkerson and Endy Chavez to start the game, Ortiz (9-6) retired 14 of the next 16 batters, walking Carl Everett in the first and Wilkerson in the third.

“Russ was good. This is a good ballpark to throw strikes. It’s pretty hard to score runs,” Cox said.

Ortiz—who allowed three hits, walked three, and struck out three—got a break in the first when Jose Vidro hit a hard liner directly to first baseman Julio Franco, who doubled Chavez with Wilkerson at third.

“That wasn’t one of my best changeups. It was pure luck that it went directly to Julio,” the right-hander said.

It was the 12th time Montreal has been shut out this season, most in the majors, and the sixth shutout for Atlanta.

Mark DeRosa was walked by Scott Downs to start the seventh and, after one out, Rafael Furcal doubled to right-center field. Joe Horgan relieved and intentionally walked Eli Marrero. J.D. Drew’s hard grounder to first was bobbled by Nick Johnson, allowing DeRosa to score.

Downs (0-3) worked 6 1-3 innings, and allowed seven hits. He walked three and struck out four.

The Braves—a day after scoring eight runs in 1 1-3 innings against Zach Day— could not do much against Downs in the first five innings, managing only four hits.

“It’s frustrating to get a loss like this, because Downs and our relievers pitched a great game for us,” Wilkerson said. “We just didn’t comethrough.”

Notes

The attendance of 7,697 was the lowest in the 38 “home” games the Expos have played in Hiram Bithorn Stadium. … Marrero hit a single on a hard bouncer to third in the sixth that Tony Batista barehanded, beating the throw to first. Drew followed with a bunt hit to the same spot that Batista also barehanded. … Batista went 1-for-4 and is still four hits shy of 1,000 forhis career.

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