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Braves rally past Dodgers
Atlanta Braves’ Melky Cabrera and Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Brad Ausmus watch Cabrera’s game-winning single in the ninth inning on Monday in Atlanta. - photo by John Bazemore

ATLANTA — The Braves struggled for eight innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers. They came through in their last at-bat — again.

Atlanta trailed by two after the Dodgers scored two unearned runs in the eighth, but the Braves recovered with three runs in the ninth inning Monday night for their 20th final at-bat victory of the season, the most in the majors.

Melky Cabrera’s bases-loaded, two-run single off Octavio Dotel capped the three-run rally that lifted the Braves to a 4-3 win over the Dodgers.

“We don’t give up,” said Alex Gonzalez, who had a single to start the winning rally. “We’ve got a good offense. All those guys took great at-bats.”

The Braves lead the majors with 204 runs in the seventh inning or later.

Dotel took over for Hong-Chih Kuo (3-2), who failed to protect a 3-1 lead. Kuo gave up singles to Gonzalez and Brian McCann before walking Brooks Conrad with one out to load the bases.

Dotel walked pinch-hitter David Ross to force in a run. Cabrera then lined the game-winning single on a 3-2 count past shortstop Jamey Carroll.

Scott Podsednik charged the ball in left field but it skipped past his glove, ending any chance for a potential play at the plate.

“He got a good hit,” Dotel said of Cabrera. “I threw a couple pitches close. It didn’t go my way.”

Cabrera also had a key defensive play when he threw out Ryan Theriot at the plate to end the Dodgers’ two-run eighth inning. Cabrera said he was as happy with his throw as his big hit an inning later.

“I wasn’t trying to win the game,” Cabrera said of his hit. “I was just trying to make contact.”

Dotel had 21 saves with Pittsburgh before his July 31 trade to the Dodgers. Manager Joe Torre on Friday removed Jonathan Broxton from the closer’s role, and Kuo earned the save on the Dodgers’ only win in the four-game series.

Kuo and Dotel combined to blow the lead.

“You certainly have to be shocked by the results out there,” Torre said, noting Kuo needed only seven pitches to retire the Braves in order in the eighth.

“We were going to have him finish it,” Torre said of Kuo.

“I must admit that as a manager you want every inning to be like the eighth. But you can never sit back and relax when you have just a one or two-run lead.”

The first-place Braves moved 21/2 games ahead of Philadelphia in the NL East. Braves starting pitcher Tommy Hanson said the team’s habit of final at-bat wins breeds confidence.

Peter Moylan (4-2) pitched a perfect ninth for Atlanta.

Los Angeles right-hander Chad Billingsley gave up five hits and one run in seven innings.

Hanson was equally strong, also giving up five hits and a run in seven innings before the Dodgers took the lead with two unearned runs in the eighth off Jonny Venters with help from a throwing error by Conrad.

Conrad, who has made five straight starts at third base since Chipper Jones’ season-ending knee injury, bobbled pinch-hitter Reed Johnson’s grounder to open the eighth.

The grounder took a bad hop at the edge of the grass, and the initial call of an error was changed to a hit at the end of the inning.

After Scott Podsednik walked, Theriot hit a soft grounder toward third base. Conrad charged the ball and threw wide of first baseman Troy Glaus for an error, allowing Johnson and Podsednik to score.

Theriot advanced to third base as right fielder Jason Heyward chased down Conrad’s wild throw. Cabrera threw out Theriot at the plate on James Loney’s fly ball to end the inning.

“I definitely should have made both those plays,” Conrad said. “I felt terrible.”

The Dodgers took a 1-0 lead in the first. With one out, Theriot reached on a single. Theriot, running on the pitch, scored from first on Andre Ethier’s double to left.

Billingsley did not allow a baserunner to reach third before Omar Infante ended a nine-pitch at-bat with a triple to center field leading off the sixth. Infante scored when Ethier made a leaping catch of Heyward’s drive in front of the right-field wall.

Much of the game was played in rain which began in the fourth inning.

NOTES: Heyward returned after missing a game with swelling in his right knee. ... INF Martin Prado (finger) was to play 2B and 3B in his first injury rehabilitation assignment with Triple-A Gwinnett and could return from the 15-day disabled list as early as Tuesday. Prado was the starting second baseman before the injury but could move to third base following Jones’ season-ending knee injury. ... Torre said he plans to meet with OF Manny Ramirez (right calf strain) in Los Angeles on Tuesday and make plans for a minor league rehab stint. “He’s still a threat. He still scares the opposing manager,” Torre said of Ramirez.

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