Brewers 5, Braves 4

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MILWAUKEE (AP)—After an awful first inning, Ben Sheets reassured manager Ned Yost everything was OK.

After leaving the game early with a couple of aches, John Smoltz said he was fine, too.

Sheets brushed off a poor first inning, Prince Fielder hit his NL-leading 17th homer and J.J. Hardy added the go-ahead RBI single to lead the Milwaukee Brewers past Atlanta 5-4 on Tuesday night.

The NL Central-leading Brewers snapped a six-game losing streak, and got an encouraging outing from their often-injured No. 1 starter.

Smoltz, who recorded his 200th victory on Thursday, left the game in the fourth inning after a brief mound visit from the trainer. The right-hander hurt his shoulder while warming up for the inning when he slipped on the mound and re-injured his ailing right pinkie in his previous at-bat.

“Had they given me 10 minutes I would have been OK,” he said. “But you don’t get 10 minutes on the mound to work yourself back into shape. I really don’t anticipate a problem.”

In the top of the inning, Smoltz shook his hand gingerly and looked at his fingers after breaking his bat during a single. Smoltz, who said he anticipates making his next start Sunday but wants to see how he feels in a couple of days, jammed the right pinkie that he dislocated on May 14 tagging Washington’s Austin Kearns.

“It was a combination of things working against me,” he said. “I didn’t want to take a chance.”

Smoltz, the only pitcher to record at least 200 wins and 150 saves in his career, said he’s learned from experience.

“In the past I’ve stayed in games and it had a lingering effect,” he said. “The season is too important for us, and for me, to mess around with that. I hated it, but at least I’ve learned a lesson or two.”

Sheets (5-3) wasn’t sure if he’d make this start after leaving his previous appearance with a blister on his right middle finger, and the Brewers had been treating the injury with a balm used for rodeo riders in an effort to callous the area.

In the first inning, Sheets didn’t look good.

Kelly Johnson led off with a single and Willie Harris hit his first homer of the season into the right field bar. Edgar Renteria doubled to snap a skid of eight straight at bats without a hit, his longest this year, and was driven in on a single by Andruw Jones to put Atlanta ahead 3-0.

“I didn’t know if he was going to get out of the first inning,” Yost said of Sheets, his oft-injured ace. “I didn’t know if that blister on his finger was affecting him or not. He came in after he finally got the third out and said, ‘I’m fine, I’m just not making good pitches.”’

Sheets didn’t allow another run, scattering 11 hits and striking out two in six innings. It gave the Brewers, who have lost 13 of 18, enough time to break out of their slump.

“I had pretty good location, I just made a couple of mistakes early and they pounced on them,” Sheets said.

Braves manager Bobby Cox didn’t see anything wrong with Sheets.

“It didn’t look like he had any blister to me,” Cox said. “He was blistering that baseball 94 miles an hour.”

The 40-year-old Smoltz wasn’t sharp, but was still effective. He gave up eight hits and three runs with five strikeouts.

Corey Hart’s RBI single in the second snapped Smoltz’s scoreless innings streak at 15 1-3. In the third, prized prospect Ryan Braun singled for the first time at Miller Park and Fielder added a towering shot to the back row of the second deck in right field, an estimated 440 feet, to tie the game at 3.

“I made a horrible pitch to the first baseman, but everything was going fine. I felt really good,” Smoltz said. “(A) three-run lead in the first inning, that’s usually a pretty good recipe for me, personally, but I didn’t uphold my end of the bargain.”

After Smoltz left the 3-3 game, the Brewers took the lead for good in the sixth.

Hardy singled in the go-ahead run for his 44th RBI off reliever Peter Moylan (1-1). Hardy scored when Braun stole second and catcher Brian McCann’s throw sailed into the outfield to make it 5-3.

The Braves got one back in the seventh off Scott Thorman’s sacrifice fly.

Francisco Cordero converted his 18th consecutive save chance—but it wasn’t easy. He struck out Thorman and Matt Diaz swinging with runners on first and third to end it.

“We had a good rally going,” Cox said. “That kid Cordero can throw. We chased some pitches, but he makes you chase pitches because he’s that good.”

Notes

Cordero’s 18 straight saves ties him for second in franchise history with Dan Kolb (2003). The club record is 25 by Doug Jones (1997). … Braves RF Jeff Francoeur snapped an 0-for-16 streak with a single in the fifth. … Braves 3B Chipper Jones did not play for the sixth straight game with a sore right hand. Braves manager Bobby Cox said he plans to hold Jones out until Friday, when Atlanta starts a three-game set with the Cubs. If Jones still can’t play then, he may be placed retroactively on the DL.

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