Braves 3, Cardinals 2

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ATLANTA (AP)—Raul Mondesi and Dan Kolb have struggled in their first season with the Atlanta Braves.

Finally, they did something to help their new team.

Mondesi homered leading off the bottom of the ninth inning for a 3-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, giving Kolb his first win with the Braves.

Mondesi was batting just .200 when he connected on the second pitch from James Journell (0-1). It was the fifth game-winning homer of Mondesi’s career, the last coming on Aug. 2, 2003, with Arizona.

“This is a good feeling,” he said. “When you come to a new team, you want to show everybody you can do the job. I’ve been trying too hard.”

Journell, picking up the first decision of his brief career, threw his opening pitch to the backstop. He then grooved a 93 mph fastball that Mondesi drove deep into the left-field seats, the outfielders barely moving as it soared over the wall.

“I look for the fastball all the time,” Mondesi said. “I knew this guy threw hard.”

Kolb (1-2) had some big shoes to fill after being acquired from Milwaukee during the offseason. John Smoltz moved back into the starting rotation, passing off the closer’s job to Kolb.

He struggled most of the month, coming into the game with six saves but an ERA of 8.00.

This time, Kolb breezed through the top of the Cardinals’ hard-hitting order, retiring David Eckstein on a grounder, striking out Larry Walker and getting Albert Pujols on a flyout.

Then, he made a winning prediction in the bottom half.

“I’m not going to brag or anything but when that first pitch hit the backstop, I said, ‘He’s going to groove one for a homer.’ Three seconds later, the ball was leaving the park,” Kolb said.

The Braves tied the game at 2 in a wild seventh after Al Reyes took over for Cardinals starter Matt Morris, who pitched six strong innings.

Johnny Estrada and Andruw Jones had back-to-back singles, and Mondesi walked to load the bases with none out. When manager Tony La Russa went to the mound to make a pitching change, Reyes began jawing with plate umpire Dale Scott over several calls that could have gone either way.

Reyes was ejected—not that it mattered, because La Russa was calling on lefty Randy Flores to face pinch-hitter Chipper Jones.

La Russa didn’t last much longer. After Scott called a ball on a borderline pitch, the manager ran out of the dugout and was quickly tossed, too.

La Russa was livid about the Braves’ tactics.

“Sooner or later, they’re going to beat the umpires down,” he said. “They argue everything. They are a class organization, but they fuss and moan about everything. Maybe that’s their strategy, but that’s not to be admired.”

The Braves didn’t get every call. Chipper Jones was clearly hit on the top of the foot with an 0-2 pitch, but Scott called it a ball. That didn’t matter, either—Flores wound up walking Jones to force in the tying run.

With the bases still loaded and none out, the Braves failed to push across the go-ahead run. Rafael Furcal flied out to short right, pinch-hitter Julio Franco struck out and Marcus Giles grounded out.

Morris remained 1-5 in his career against the Braves—the only NL team to saddle him with a mark below .500. Not that he hasn’t been effective, posting a 3.11 ERA in 13 appearances vs. Atlanta.

“I don’t have a good record against them at all,” said Morris, who allowed just four hits and a run. “If it had been the middle of the season, they probably would have let me go back out in the seventh. But I’m coming off (shoulder) surgery, and our bullpen has been nothing but great all year.”

One night after scoring four runs in the first inning off Tim Hudson, the Cardinals had another quick start against John Thomson. Pujols had a run-scoring double in the first, extending his hitting streak to 11 games, and St. Louis added an unearned run in the second after Pete Orr botched a grounder at third while filling in for the injured Chipper Jones. Light-hitting Yadier Molina took advantage with an RBI double.

The Braves manufactured their lone run off Morris in the second. Adam LaRoche doubled, tagged up on a flyout, then came home on Estrada’s sacrifice fly.

Thomson scattered eight hits over six innings, keeping the Braves in the game.

After he left, St. Louis appeared to score two runs in the seventh on Jim Edmonds’ single to right. But the Braves argued successfully that Pujols, who briefly froze between first and second, was struck in the leg with the hit. The four umpires reversed their call after getting together.

The Cardinals still had two runners on with two outs, but Kevin Gryboski got Scott Rolen on a called third strike.

Notes

Chipper Jones pinch-hit for the second night in a row, but a sore left foot kept him out of the starting lineup for the fifth consecutive game. … Morris, who opened the season on the DL while recovering from his surgery, has given up just four runs in 17 innings since rejoining the rotation.

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