Braves 6, Diamondbacks 2

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PHOENIX (AP)—Atlanta’s faith in Paul Byrd’s abilities is paying off.

Byrd won consecutive starts for the first time in nearly two years, allowing two runs in his longest outing of the season to lead the Braves to a 6-2 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Saturday.

“I’ve been able to throw strikes this year,” Byrd said. “That’s one thing coming back from Tommy John is they said it takes a while to get the feel on the ball, and I haven’t noticed that.”

Chipper Jones backed Byrd with two RBIs and Rafael Furcal had an RBI double. The Braves won for the ninth time in 10 games and improved to 17-5 since the All-Star break.

Quinton McCracken hit a leadoff home run and a sacrifice fly for the Diamondbacks, who skidded to their 22nd loss in 26 games. The defeat left Arizona (35-77) a franchise-record 42 games below .500.

“I’m a guy who maybe does a little better when he gets an opportunity to get out there on a regular basis,” said McCracken, the left fielder with Luis Gonzalez sidelined. “I want to take advantage of the opportunity and help the team win.”

Byrd (4-3), who missed last season with elbow problems, allowed five hits and no walks in 7 1-3 innings—his best performance since working seven scoreless in a 4-0 win over Cleveland on June 19. That was his first appearance since having ligament-replacement surgery on his right elbow July 1, 2003.

He also beat the New York Mets 6-5 last Sunday, snapping an 0-2 stretch. The last time Byrd won back-to-back starts was Sept. 14-19, 2002, for the Kansas City Royals.

McCracken jumped on Byrd’s second pitch for Arizona’s 11th leadoff homer, third this season.

But the right-hander retired 21 of the next 23 batters—allowing only Luis Terrero’s bunt single in the fourth and a single by McCracken in the sixth.

“That’s a pretty good ratio, isn’t it?” outfielder J.D. Drew said. “It’s just one of those things where, when McCracken’s swinging the bat good, it doesn’t matter who’s throwing it. Sometimes a hot hitter gets a big hit, but it worked out well for us.”

Byrd weakened in the eighth, when Scott Hairston and pinch-hitter Doug DeVore singled and reliever Elmer Dessens sacrificed them along.

That forced manager Bobby Cox to make what he called his toughest decision all year—pulling a starter who had thrown only 79 pitches and had an AL-high seven complete games for the Royals in 2002.

“It’s a hard situation for the manager in those cases where a guy has no pitches and all of a sudden there’s one ball hit hard, and a guy’s on base and your bullpen’s pretty good,” Cox said.

“And McCracken got him for a home run, that kind of did it for me, you know. If he makes a mistake to him it goes out maybe, or a double or something.”

Tom Martin got the second out on McCracken’s sacrifice fly to deep center field, which cut the lead to 3-2, and Kevin Gryboski struck out Terrero to end the threat.

John Smoltz, unavailable to close Friday night, got the last three outs after Atlanta added three more runs in the ninth. Marcus Giles and Drew had RBI singles against Randy Choate.

Byrd had a lead to protect from the third inning, when the Braves came up with three runs on Furcal’s double and a two-run single by Jones off Edgar Gonzalez (0-5).

“That’s huge for me,” he said. “I like to have a little cushion. It helps me relax a little bit.”

The 21-year-old Gonzalez lost his sixth in a row since winning his major league debut last year. He allowed three runs on six hits and five walks in a career-high six innings.

“We felt real good in what we saw from Edgar today,” Arizona manager Al Pedrique said. “He threw the ball a lot better, and he had better poise.”

Notes

Juan Brito snapped an 0-for-19 string against basestealers when he threw out Furcal at second in the first inning. … Jones has a club-high 15 RBIs in 22 games since the break. … The Diamondbacks kept it close with a 1-5-3 double play on Adam LaRoche’s one-hopper back to Gonzalez in the sixth. … Gonzalez was 2-1 last season, winning once in seven relief appearances and splitting two starts. … Byrd had never beaten Arizona (0-2 in five previous starts).

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