Braves 8, Nationals 5
ATLANTA (AP)—Jeff Francoeur thrust his right arm toward the sky, sprinted around the bases much faster than he needed to and leaped into the arms of his teammates, who turned home plate into a mosh pit.
What a way to celebrate his first career grand slam.
“I love those situations,” said Francoeur, who brings a football mentality to the baseball field. “If you don’t love ‘em, you’re in the wrong sport. It’s games like this that keep bringing you back.”
Francoeur doesn’t even mind failing.
Last month, he came up in the ninth against San Diego with two outs, two runners on and the Braves trailing 4-3. Trevor Hoffman struck out Francoeur to end the game, but the 22-year-old outfielder savored his chance and looked forward to the next one.
When Chad Cordero hung a slider on a 1-0 pitch, Francoeur drove it deep into the left-field seats.
“It’s just you against him, you against the closer,” he said. “It’s a chance to be on the greatest stage. Sometimes you do it, sometimes you don’t. But it’s the greatest feeling.”
Trailing 5-3 heading to their final at-bat, the Braves quickly rallied against Cordero (1-1). He gave up three hits on his first three pitches: a leadoff homer by Brian McCann, followed by sharp singles from Ryan Langerhans and Marcus Giles.
Edgar Renteria, Atlanta’s leading hitter, attempted to bunt the runners over but got it a little too close to the mound, allowing Cordero to get a force on Langerhans at third. After Chipper Jones loaded the bases with an infield single, Cordero still had a chance to escape the mess when Andruw Jones took a called third streak.
Then came the biggest mistake of all to Francoeur, who had already extended his hitting streak to 11 games with a run-scoring double in the first.
“Pitching is getting three outs,” Cordero said. “I thought if I got Andruw, I could get the last out.”
Francoeur celebrated wildly after crossing home, actually butting heads with Chipper Jones but feeling no pain.
Not so for Jones.
“Chipper is mad at me,” Francoeur said with a smile. “He said next time he’ll keep his helmet on.”
“It was pretty obvious what happened,” Cordero said. “I gave up a couple of hits and a few home runs. I stunk.”
Sosa was pretty bad, too. He gave up nine hits and five runs in 5 2-3 innings, his ERA climbing to 6.52 and his record staying at 0-5. A year ago, he was one of baseball’s biggest surprises, going 13-3 with a 6.52 ERA.
“Sosa threw a real good ball game and made just a horrible pitch on Soriano,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “He got the ball elevated. That really changed the game around really quickly.”
The Braves jumped ahead 2-0 in the first inning, but Sosa couldn’t hold the lead. Jose Guillen had a sacrifice fly in the third, and LeCroy led off the fourth with just his second homer of the season.
Atlanta went back on top with Todd Pratt’s first homer of the season in the fifth, and Sosa appeared to be in good shape when he retired the first two hitters in the sixth. But Royce Clayton doubled to right, and pitcher Mike O’Connor slapped a single to left for his first career hit and RBI.
Sosa got two quick strikes on Soriano, then left the next pitch up—a familiar problem all season. Soriano drove it over the center field wall for his 11th homer.
That was it for Sosa, who has already given up eight homers in just 29 innings. A year ago, he surrendered 12 homers in 134 innings.
O’Connor was lifted after he gave up a leadoff single to Andruw Jones in the sixth. Jon Rauch got out of the inning, and Gary Majewski escaped a major jam in the seventh when Jones flied out with the bases loaded.
Chipper Jones has a 12-game hitting streak. … Francoeur’s hitting streak equals the longest of his young career. … Washington C Brian Schneider went on the disabled list for the first time in his pro career. He’s out for at least 15 days with a strained left hamstring. … 1B Robert Fick, who was called up from an injury rehab assignment at Triple-A New Orleans, arrived at Turner Field during the game and was in uniform. … Braves LHP Horacio Ramirez pitched 4 2-3 innings during a rehab start at Class A Rome. He gave up five hits, walked one and was charged with two earned runs. … Pratt hit his first homer since Aug. 6, 2005, when he played for Philadelphia. … The Nationals are assured of losing the three-game series, which drops them to 1-10 with one split in their last 12 series against the Braves.