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Braves break through in Game 2, salvage split

POSTED: May 23, 2008 5:01 a.m.
The Associated Press/

Atlanta Braves' Greg Norton (20) Gregor Blanco and Jeff Francoeur (7) celebrate at home plate after a two-run hit from Mark Kotsay in the fourth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the second game of a doubleheader Monday in Pittsburgh.

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PITTSBURGH — Tim Hudson showed again that a well-pitched game is the easiest and best way to end an extended streak. Or, on this day, a number of streaks.

Hudson limited Pittsburgh to two hits and an unearned run over seven innings and the Atlanta Braves halted their seven-game road losing slide with an 8-1 victory that concluded Monday’s doubleheader.

In the opener, Freddy Sanchez hit a three-run double and Zach Duke pitched six shutout innings as the Pirates won 5-0 for their sixth consecutive win.

With Mark Kotsay and Brian McCann driving in three runs each, Atlanta avoided its first four-game sweep by Pittsburgh since Sept. 1-3, 1978. The Pirates’ winning streak was their longest since they won 10 straight from June 25-July 5, 2004.

"We were able to get a nice lead and I was able to relax," Hudson said after winning his third in a row, all with dominating outings. "I did a pretty good job of changing speeds off my fastball. When you get a lead, you can experiment a little bit."

Hudson (6-2) held the Pirates to a lone single over his final six innings, finishing with five strikeouts and two walks. Pittsburgh’s only run came in the first on first baseman Greg Norton’s error on Nate McLouth’s grounder.

Hudson has permitted only two earned runs and 11 hits over 23 innings in beating the Reds, Padres and Pirates in succession, averaging nearly eight innings per start.

"He’s a guy who’s been doing it well for a long time. We had a chance to get more runs early and didn’t do it," the Pirates’ Adam LaRoche said. "But other than this game, it was a great 6-1 homestand for us. We finally put it all together."

So did the Braves in the second game as they took a 3-1 lead on Kotsay’s two-run double in the fourth against John Van Benschoten (0-2). McCann’s three-run homer in the fifth made it 7-1. Kotsay added an RBI double in the seventh.

The Braves still own the majors’ worst road record, 5-14, but finally ended a road losing streak that extended over their last two road trips. They also stopped Pittsburgh’s seven-game home winning streak.

Even while splitting, the Braves left 24 on base, 15 in the opener as Duke (2-2) shook off five walks, three errors and five Braves hits to win. Duke, Damaso Marte and Sean Burnett combined to pitch the shutout.

"I think we’re playing great," manager Bobby Cox said. "We hit so many balls hard with men on, it’s becoming a joke around the clubhouse. Line drives right at them. It’s crazy."

Van Benschoten, one of the majors’ worst starters last season with an 0-7 record and a 10.15 ERA in nine starts, wasn’t much better in his first 2008 start. The 2001 first-round draft pick was roughed up for seven runs, six earned, and nine hits over four-plus innings.

"We were able to time up his fastball and put some good swings on it," Jeff Francoeur said.

The right-handed Van Benschoten has a 1-12 record and 8.84 ERA in 21 career major league games and hasn’t won since 2004, and likely won’t get a chance to win again soon. He was optioned back to Triple-A Indianapolis after the game.

"I’ll be back," he said. "It’s the business, the nature of the beast, and I’ve got to rise up from this."

Still, he might be running out of chances after giving up eight earned runs in 7 2-3 innings and losing twice in four games following his April 29 callup. The Pirates will make a roster move to replace him today in St. Louis.

Duke was constantly in trouble, with at least two runners reaching in all but one inning, but got key outs when he needed them. He won successive starts for the first time since beating the Brewers on Sept. 11, 2006, and the Mets six days later.

"The big key was most of the runners came when we had two outs already, so you can focus on getting that one out. It made it a little easier," Duke said.

Braves rookie Jair Jurrjens (4-3) got himself into trouble in the fifth by walking Jason Michaels and hitting light-hitting rookie Brian Bixler with a pitch in the upper back, helping the Pirates load the bases.

Sanchez — 10-for-28 (.357) with eight RBIs as a leadoff batter since moving up one spot in the order last week — cleared the bases with a two-out double to right-center.

LaRoche added a two-run homer, his fourth, in the eighth against Manny Acosta.Notes: The Pirates went into the doubleheader with a six-game errorless streak, only to commit six errors — all but one by infielders. ... Hudson lost his previous two road starts, pitching only three innings in each. ... Braves 1B Mark Teixeira left in the fourth inning of the opener with back spasms on a cloudy, chilly 48-degree day. He didn’t play in the second game. ... Pittsburgh won the season series 5-2. ... By losing the second game, Pittsburgh — coming off 15 consecutive losing seasons — missed a chance to reach .500.



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