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Braves win in Maddux's best start of season

ATLANTA (AP) -- This was vintage Greg Maddux: no runs, no walks
and a quick game.

Maddux, who got off to a dismal start this season, pitched
three-hit ball over seven innings and the streaking Atlanta Braves
beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-2 Wednesday night.

The 2-hour, 10-minute game was Atlanta's eighth victory in nine
games and pushed the Braves into first place for the first time
this season. They are in a three-way tie atop the NL East with
Montreal and Philadelphia.

"Tonight was good," Maddux said after Atlanta's fastest game
of the season. "I was thinking about pitching instead of thinking
about how to throw pitches. That's a step in the right direction."

Marcus Giles and Gary Sheffield hit back-to-back homers off Matt Morris in the first inning for Atlanta. Giles and Sheffield also
drove in runs in the eighth against Jeff Fassero to extend the lead to 4-0.

Those runs proved to be valuable when Jim Edmonds hit a two-run
homer off Darren Holmes in the ninth. The Braves brought on John Smoltz, who got three outs for his NL-leading eighth save in eight
chances -- and 24th in a row dating to last season.

Maddux (2-3) lost his first three starts of the season for the
first time in his career, with the Braves getting outscored 43-5 in
those games.

The four-time Cy Young winner came into Wednesday night's game
with an unsightly 7.52 ERA, having allowed 39 hits and seven homers
in 26 1/3 innings.

But Maddux needed just 76 pitches to breeze through seven
innings against the hard-hitting Cardinals. He wanted to keep
going, but manager Bobby Cox decided to turn to his bullpen.
Roberto Hernandez pitched a scoreless eighth, but Holmes failed to
get an out in the ninth.

"I think (Maddux) could have finished," Cox said. "He wanted
to go back out there."

Maddux lowered his ERA to 5.94 with his best outing of the
season.

"You knew the same ol' Doggie would show up at some point,"
Braves outfielder Chipper Jones said. "Doggie has been working his
tail off on his mechanics. The way the ball was going over the
plate tonight, obviously he's figured it out."

Smoltz, who hasn't given up a run all season, retired Orlando Palmeiro on a harmless fly with runners at second and third to end
it.

Smoltz admitted he didn't have his best stuff pitching on
back-to-back nights. He still got through it.

"I don't want to create any kind of situation or atmosphere
where the other team feels like they have a chance," he said.
"There's nights when you're not going to be at your best, but
there's no reason you can't get the job done."

Maddux gave an indication that this night would be different
when he avoided early trouble. It was the first time in six starts
that he made it through the first two innings without giving up a
run.

"What felt good was getting out of the first inning and have
our guys come up with the score tied for a change," Maddux said.

Morris (1-2) took another hard-luck loss against the Braves, the
only NL team he's never beaten. His record against Atlanta dropped
to 0-5 despite a 3.44 ERA in 10 career starts.

"Really?" Jones said incredulously. "I know there's 24 other
guys in this clubhouse who don't like facing him."

Morris allowed just five hits in seven innings, encountering no
other serious problems after giving up the first-inning homers.

"When you put your team in a hole right off the get-go, the
whole vibe changes," Morris said. "I just tried to keep it close.
I made some decent pitches after that."

Fernando Vina was the only St. Louis player to get past second
base against Maddux. Vina started the game by getting plunked with
a pitch, stole second and moved to third on a groundout. But
Edmonds popped up to end the threat.

In the ninth, Edmonds hit his third career homer at Turner
Field. He has just one other hit in 43 at-bats in Atlanta, an .093
average.

"I don't know what they were saying about Maddux early in the
season, but he had his stuff tonight," Edmonds said.

Maddux was ahead all night, throwing 54 strikes and going to
three balls on just one hitter. He struck out only one, but didn't
walk anyone.

The Braves jumped ahead in the first when Giles lined a 2-0
fastball into the left-field seats for his third homer of the
season.

Sheffield followed with an even longer drive to left for his
sixth homer -- and second in as many nights against the Cardinals.

In the eighth, Giles had an RBI single and Sheffield followed
with a sacrifice fly.

Game notes
The Cardinals came to Atlanta averaging more than six runs
per game. They have scored only five times in the first two
games of the series. ... Andruw Jones was called for interference
when he blatantly pulled down Vina while the St. Louis second
baseman attempted to complete a double play in the seventh. ... St.
Louis 1B Tino Martinez went 1-for-4 to extend his hitting streak to
11 games. ... Cardinals pitcher Rick Ankiel
struggled through another wild outing in the minors Wednesday
night, walking three batters, hitting another and throwing two wild
pitches in less than an inning. Ankiel (1-1) inherited a 1-0 lead in the eighth and retired
his first two batters on a strikeout and groundout. Then he fell
apart against the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx, the Chicago Cubs'
Double-A affiliate. ... The left-hander walked his third batter on a full count, another
on four straight balls and gave up his third free pass on five
pitches. Ankiel then hit John Hamilton in the shoulder with a
curveball to force in a run before he was relieved.