Braves 4, Expos 3

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ATLANTA (AP)—A three-game losing streak. A teammate’s arrest. The Atlanta Braves needed some good news in the worst way.

They got it.

Johnny Estrada hit a three-run homer and John Thomson pitched six solid innings, leading the Braves to a 4-3 victory over the Montreal Expos on Friday night.

“You’ve got to try to turn it around and get back in a positive swing,” Thomson said. “With all the distractions we’ve had, we still went out there and won the game.”

The biggest distraction was caused by shortstop Rafael Furcal, who was arrested on drunken driving charges early Friday. Jailed much of the day, Furcal arrived at Turner Field about 1 1/2 hours before the game but didn’t play.

“It’s an unfortunate situation for him and our team,” Estrada said. “But we didn’t let it affect us.”

The Braves were coming off three straight losses to Philadelphia, putting them on the cusp of their longest losing streak of the season. Despite being outhit 13-6, Atlanta extended its NL East lead to 7 1/2 games over Florida.

The Marlins split a doubleheader with the Chicago Cubs.

“The way we played against Philly, that didn’t even look like us out there,” Thomson said. “It was like you were on the outside looking in. When I came in today, somebody said, ‘I hope you brought your good stuff today, because we need this one.”’

Thomson (11-8) gave up three hits and an unearned run in the first, but Charles Thomas ended the inning by throwing out Terrmel Sledge at the plate.

Thomson escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the third and left after the sixth with a 4-2 lead. Antonio Alfonseca pitched a scoreless seventh and John Smoltz got the final six outs, earning his 37th save.

The Braves quickly erased Montreal’s lead in the home half of the first. Thomas followed his strong throw by singling to right. John Patterson (3-5) retired the next two hitters, but a walk to Chipper Jones extended the inning.

Estrada made the Expos pay, lining a 1-0 pitch off the right-field foul pole — the shortest part of the field—for his ninth homer of the season.

“I could have thrown it out there better than that,” said Estrada, who was jammed on the pitch. “I thought it was going to hook foul, but it stayed straight and hit off the net.”

Montreal closed to 3-2 in the fifth. With two outs, Juan Rivera beat out a grounder that shortstop Mark DeRosa fielded deep in the hole while Brad Wilkerson trotted in from third.

Patterson gave the run right back. In the bottom half, Marcus Giles hit the first pitch into the left-field seats for his sixth homer, restoring the Braves’ two-run lead.

Giles, mired in an 0-for-15 slump, would have settled for a hit of any kind.

“It’s nice to contribute on the offensive end for a change,” he told reporters. “It’s about time for me. I don’t know what to say. I’m as shocked as you guys.”

Chris Reitsma gave up two straight hits to start the Montreal eighth, forcing the Braves to bring on Smoltz ahead of schedule. The closer got Ryan Church to hit into a double play, though Sledge scored from third to make it 4-3.

Smoltz then gave up two more hits in the eighth, but Maicer Izturis ended the threat by flying out to center.

Smoltz got in more trouble in the ninth. The Expos put a runner at third with two outs, but Sledge ended it by flying out.

The Expos squandered their best chance in the third. Wilkerson led off with a double, Jamey Carroll walked and Sledge beat out what was intended as a sacrifice bunt for a hit.

But Thomson struck out Rivera and got Church to hit into a double play.

“That was the turning point in my mind,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said.

The Expos left nine runners on base.

“The big hit never came when we needed it,” Expos manager Frank Robinson said. “We didn’t maximize our chances early in the game.”

Notes

Expos C Brian Schneider was struck just above the left elbow by Giles’ bat in the first inning. The catcher got a little too close to the plate and was hit on the follow-through of Giles’ swing. Schneider suffered a painful bruise, finally forcing him out of the game after the fifth. … Thomas took Furcal’s normal spot at the leadoff hitter and went 1-for-4. DeRosa filled in at shortstop, bobbling a grounder in the first that led to Montreal’s first run. … The Braves are 40-20 against NL East teams this year, including 13-4 vs. Montreal.

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