The Atlanta Braves are off to a strong start in the second half of their season.
They’ll be trying for their first three-game home sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates in more than seven years when the teams wrap up their series on Sunday.
The Braves (49-42) won for the sixth time in seven games on Saturday, beating the Pirates 5-4. Atlanta, which opened the second half with a 9-1 win over Pittsburgh (40-50), remained 1 1/2 games behind the NL East-leading New York Mets, who beat Cincinnati.
The Braves are trying for their first three-game home sweep of the Pirates since April 21-23, 2000. They haven’t swept a three-game set from Pittsburgh since June 1-3, 2000 in Atlanta.
Jeff Francoeur drove in the winning run on a bases-loaded single with two outs in the ninth, as the Braves held on despite blowing a 4-0 lead. Francoeur has 27 two-out RBIs this season.
Andruw Jones hit a two-run homer in the first and is batting 8-for-16 with three homers over his last five games, boosting his season average to .214.
“We made a great game into a tight one,” said manager Bobby Cox, whose team is 4-1 against the Pirates this season.
Pittsburgh has dropped three of four since a four-game winning streak. Ryan Doumit had a pinch-hit, three-run homer in the seventh Saturday, but third baseman Jose Bautista cut his left hand as he was caught stealing while sliding into third base in the second and is day to day.
“We did a great job of getting back in the game,” manager Jim Tracy said. “We had our backs to the wall all night. We had to play catch-up. We had a great at-bat off the bench to get us back in the game.”
In the finale, Pittsburgh will hand the ball to starter Paul Maholm (5-11, 4.76 ERA), who has lasted at least seven innings in five straight starts and seven of nine. He gave up four runs in seven-plus innings of an 8-4 win over the Chicago Cubs on July 6 to win for the third time in five outings.
“I’m a lot more comfortable, a lot more consistent,” he told the Pirates’ official team Web site. “I’m able to get ahead with most of my pitches and not really get into a funk where it’s a little off.”
Maholm made his only previous start against the Braves on Aug. 2 last season, allowing two runs in seven innings without getting a decision in Pittsburgh’s 3-2 home loss.
Atlanta will counter with Buddy Carlyle (3-2, 4.50), who is looking to build off one of the best outings of his career. He lasted a career-best eight innings and matched a career high with seven strikeouts, giving up three runs in a 7-4 win in San Diego on July 6.
“He came up with a gem,” Cox said. “He’s sneaky quick. A lot of guys don’t have good hacks at him. He gets it by them.”
Carlyle also became the third pitcher in franchise history and first since Joe Oeschger in 1921 to strike out three batters on nine pitches in a single inning when he pulled off the feat in the fourth.
“I was just able to get ahead of guys a little bit better,” said Carlyle, who started his major league career in 1999 with the Padres and has never faced the Pirates.
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