PITTSBURGH (AP) -- A four-run lead in the ninth inning, and John Smoltz waiting in the bullpen in case of trouble. This should have been easy for the Atlanta Braves.
This time, it wasn't.Matt Franco drove in four runs with a homer and a bases-loaded triple that broke a seventh-inning tie, and the Braves withstood Pittsburgh's three-run rally in the ninth to beat the Pirates 5-4 on Tuesday night.Franco was 3-for-4 with three consecutive hits, lacking only a double for the cycle, before being lifted during a double switch in the bottom of the seventh.Kerry Ligtenberg started the ninth with the Braves up 5-1, but was lifted for Smoltz after Aramis Ramirez singled and Rob Mackowiak walked. Smoltz struggled but still got his major league-leading 46th save, stranding runners on first and third when he got Jason Kendall to fly out to right.Before that, Smoltz -- 46-for-50 in save opportunities -- allowed
Kevin Young's RBI double, Armando Rios' run-scoring grounder and
Abraham Nunez's RBI single."Just when you think it's easy, you just have to get three outs
... it doesn't work that way,'' Smoltz said. "In this role, people
think you never struggle or make mistakes, but you do. Just don't
make the mistake of costing us the game.''He didn't, but only barely."I hate giving up runs, I don't care whose they are,'' Smoltz said. "I didn't pitch good. It's just one of those things you go through when you're trying to make every pitch a perfect pitch.''Pirates starter Josh Fogg (11-10) felt the same way.The Braves, 24-8 against Pittsburgh since 1998, took a 1-0 lead on Franco's solo homer off Fogg to start the fourth. It was Franco's sixth homer and his first since July 3.Javy Lopez got the Braves' four-run seventh started, reaching when shortstop Nunez misplayed his grounder. Nunez was a last-minute lineup replacement for Jack Wilson, who sat out his third straight start with a strained neck.Fogg then loaded the bases by allowing Vinny Castilla's single and hitting Rafael Furcal with a pitch on a 2-2 count. Franco then lined a double into the left-center gap, the deepest point in PNC Park, to clear the bases and give the Braves -- whose 83 victories are the second-most in the majors -- only their seventh victory in 15 games."I wanted to drive the ball and get a few runs in, and I got a good pitch to hit and I put a pretty good swing on it,'' Franco said. "There aren't too many chances I get for a triple.''Fogg was trying to get Franco to hit the ball on the ground, but left a fastball over the plate on a 2-1 pitch."I always welcome a challenge and I pride myself on that, and I should have thrown him a better pitch,'' Fogg said. "If you want to get people out, you've got to make good pitches, and I didn't there.''Darren Bragg, also a late lineup addition, followed Franco's second triple of the season with a run-scoring single that made it 5-1. Bragg started in right field for Gary Sheffield, who was scratched after jamming his left thumb during batting practice. Manager Bobby Cox said Sheffield's thumb is swollen, and he also won't start Wednesday night.The Pirates, trying for their first four-game winning streak
since April, had tied it at 1 on Ramirez's RBI double in the sixth,
one of only two hits they got off Millwood (14-6) in six innings.Millwood improved to 12-1 in his last 19 starts and 5-0 in his
last six, striking out four and walking four. He has allowed two or
fewer earned runs in 15 of those 19 starts, with the Braves winning
all but two of the 19.Tim Spooneybarger and Chris Hammond followed Millwood with a
scoreless inning each.
Wilson was injured when he banged heads with teammate Craig
Wilson during stretching drills in Milwaukee last weekend. ... The
Pirates failed to homer for the first time in seven games. ...
Despite the loss, the Pirates are 8-5 against the NL East, their
only winning record against any of the NL's three divisions. They
are 37-40 against the NL Central and 10-20 against the NL West. ...
The Braves are 4-0 in PNC Park. The teams met for the first time
since June 3, 2001. ... Franco drove in a career-high four runs for
the second time this season. He also did it July 1 against
Montreal, during the same series in which he hit his last previous
homer. ... Hammond hasn't allowed an earned run in 24 2-3 innings
over 22 games, starting June 30 in Boston. ... The Pirates haven't
won four in a row since winning six straight from April 15-21. ...
The Braves have won the last 38 games in which Smoltz has appeared.