Braves overtake Phils for first

ATLANTA (AP) -- This is where the Atlanta Braves always expect to

First place in the NL East.

All by themselves.

Mike Hampton pitched seven strong innings after another rough
start, John Smoltz did the rest and the Braves held off the
Philadelphia Phillies 4-2 on Monday night.

Atlanta, which has won 12 straight division titles, gained sole
possession of the division lead for the first time all season,
breaking a tie with the Phillies.

"The goal is to be in first when the whole season is
completed," manager Bobby Cox said. "We'll try to stay there."

Despite their impressive pedigree, it's a little surprising to
find the Braves in this position. After all, they went through a
major salary purge during the last offseason, losing Gary
Sheffield, Greg Maddux and Vinny Castilla.

The Phillies and World Series champion Florida Marlins were
supposed to be the new powers in the East, but it appears that
first in this division still goes through a familiar place --

"They smell blood every time they take the field," said
Philadelphia manager Larry Bowa, his team falling out of the
division lead for the first time since June 27. "They don't win by

Adam LaRoche, Andruw Jones, Charles Thomas and Chipper Jones
drove in runs for the Braves, who have won 16 of 20 to surge to the
top of a weak division.

"We've still got a great team," Andruw Jones said. "I know
Bobby never thought we would be in last, or even second or third.
He knew we had a great team when we broke camp."

Hampton (5-8) got through another rocky start to win for the
fourth time in his last five starts. Jimmy Rollins led off with a
double and wound up scoring on Bobby Abreu's groundout.

Hampton has given up 19 runs in the first -- more than any other
inning -- but he quickly settled down. The Phillies managed only one
hit over the next five innings, a stretch of domination that ended
with Jim Thome's monstrous homer over the center-field fence
leading off the seventh.

The Phillies threatened to get back in the game when Jason
Michaels walked and David Bell followed with a single, putting
runners at first and second with one out. But Mike Lieberthal hit
into an inning-ending double play, which began with Chipper Jones
fielding a tricky hop at third base.

On the mound, Hampton pumped his fist and let out a yell as he
watched the ball go around the horn.

"I was real excited about it," Hampton said. "It gave me a
lot of confidence for Bobby to stay with me in that position. I
won't be looking over my shoulder."

Smoltz went the rest of the way for his second two-inning save
of the season. He struck out four and had to get the final out
twice -- Rickey Ledee struck out but reached on a passed ball,
putting runners at first and third in the ninth.

Bell hit a liner that appeared headed for left field, but
shortstop Rafael Furcal stretched out to make a leaping catch that
ended the game. Smoltz kneeled on the mound and pumped his fist,
savoring his 18th save in 20 chances.

"I thought it was a base hit," he said. "He really made solid

In the second, LaRoche doubled in a run and came home on Andruw
Jones' single -- the slumping outfielder's first RBI since July 7.
The Braves made it 3-1 in the fourth on Thomas' run-scoring single
up the middle, and Chipper Jones lined an RBI double to right in
the fifth.

Phillies starter Paul Abbott dropped to 0-4 since joining
Philadelphia. He started the season with Tampa Bay, going 2-5
before getting his release on June 3.

Abbott allowed eight hits and four runs in 4 2-3 innings. He's
lost two straight to the Braves, also getting the loss in Hampton's
4-0 win on July 10.

"It is definitely frustrating," Abbott said. "How can it not

In what is becoming a daily occurrence, Thomas made another
spectacular play in the field, too. The left fielder made a diving
catch on Rollins' soft flyball in the sixth, continuing his
brilliant play since being called up from the minors June 23.

Andruw Jones chipped in with a belly flopper of his own to end
the eighth -- yet another spectacular defensive play by the Braves.

"The team was outstanding," Hampton said. "All the guys
behind me deserve the credit."

Game notes
Cox won his 1,600th game as Braves manager, giving him
1,955 victories overall. "I honestly don't follow that stuff,"
Cox said. ... Hampton has surrendered 11 homers this season, but
Thome's was the first by a left-handed hitter. ... The Phillies
have yet to win a series against the other top teams in the NL
East. They are 8-19 against Atlanta, Florida and the New York Mets.
... Thomas had the first stolen base of his major league career in
the fourth. ... Atlanta's J.D. Drew extended his career-best
hitting streak to 16 games with a fifth-inning single. ...
Philadelphia RHP Ryan Madson pitched 2 1-3 scoreless innings,
stretching his streak without giving up a run to 21.