Braves 6, Cardinals 3

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ATLANTA (AP)—With three scoreless innings, the Atlanta Braves’ beleaguered bullpen finally supported John Smoltz.

“That’s what we have to have,” Smoltz said. “They’re grinding it out and doing everything they can.”

Smoltz won for the first time in eight starts, and Atlanta hit four home runs in a 6-3 victory over the struggling St. Louis Cardinals on Monday night.

Coming off the worst month in franchise history, the Braves have won two straight for the first time since May 27-28, a span of 33 games.

The Cardinals, losers of 11 of 13, maintained a one-game lead over Cincinnati in the NL Central. St. Louis has dropped seven straight on the road.

Smoltz (5-5) and Cardinals rookie Anthony Reyes (1-3) both returned following a 55-minute rain delay in the bottom of the third.

“Definitely give credit to Smoltz,” St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. “He made enough good pitches, but I thought our approach against whoever was pitching was outstanding the whole night.”

A steady drizzle began falling before the Braves batted in the third, and Marcus Giles and Edgar Renteria hit back-to-back homers before play was suspended.

When play resumed, Reyes gave up Brian McCann’s sixth homer, a two-run shot to right-center that put Atlanta ahead 4-3. Jeff Francoeur, who followed with a double, scored on Scott Thorman’s RBI single to make it 5-3.

Smoltz allowed seven hits and three runs in six innings. After Albert Pujols hit his 28th homer—a solo shot that gave St. Louis a 3-0 lead in the third— Smoltz retired 11 of the last 14 batters he faced.

The right-hander struck out seven and walked none. Since pitching seven shutout innings of a 3-1 victory May 22 at San Diego, Smoltz had gone 0-3 with a 5.55 ERA in seven previous starts.

Smoltz had watched Atlanta’s bullpen, which entered with 17 blown saves in 33 chances, give up leads he handed over in six of his eight no-decisions.

The outcome was different this time.

Right-hander Chad Paronto pitched the seventh, getting Pujols to ground into an inning-ending double play. Ken Ray worked the eighth and new closer Jorge Sosa pitched the ninth, earning his third save in four chances.

“It’s first and third with one out and Pujols is hitting—I don’t care if it’s the nastiest pitcher in the league—that’s big,” Smoltz said of Paronto. “We’ll turn it around if we do this more often than not.”

Smoltz also retired Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds in the fifth with two runners on.

“You’ve got a guy like Smoltz out there cruising along, giving up a hit here and there, then he bears down and makes his pitches,” Edmonds said. “Maybe he gets more intense, makes good pitches and gets out of jams. It’s tough to score on a guy like that. He’s not just a guy in the league. He’s one of the best pitchers of our era.”

Atlanta’s Ryan Langerhans hit his sixth homer in the seventh, a solo shot on rookie Josh Kinney’s first pitch in the majors.

Reyes, who faced Atlanta for the first time, allowed six hits, five runs and three walks in five innings. The right-hander, who struck out five, has lost three straight starts.

“I just felt like I was battling myself today, trying to keep the ball down,” Reyes said. “Just a couple pitches up in the zone—they didn’t come back.”

Aaron Miles’ two-run double in the second put the Cardinals up 2-0.


Braves 3B Chipper Jones missed his second straight start and will see a specialist Tuesday after an MRI revealed a partial tear in his right foot. … The Cardinals optioned RHP Brad Thompson to Triple-A Memphis and recalled OF Chris Duncan. … Back spasms forced Atlanta 1B Adam LaRoche from the lineup. Thorman started in his place. … Atlanta last hit three homers in an inning in a May 28 victory over the Chicago Cubs. … The Braves hit into four double plays.

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