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Astros threaten against Smoltz but fall short

HOUSTON (AP) -- Hit hard by Houston in the past, John Thomson
changed his approach Wednesday night.

It worked.

Thomson held the Astros to four hits for seven innings and
pitched the Atlanta Braves to a 5-4 victory.

"Everytime I've pitched against them before, it seemed like
they had my number. Tonight I decided to throw more off-speed stuff
and changeups and I got a lot more ground balls," Thomson said.

Thomson was 2-4 with a 7.71 ERA against Houston in six previous
games.

"My whole career I've been a fastball and hard sinker pitcher.
They are a good fastball hitting team and I'm always around the
plate with the fastball," he said.

"I threw a lot of curves tonight and I threw more changeups
than I did in the whole month of June," he said.

Jeff Bagwell hit a two-out, two-run homer in the ninth off
Braves closer John Smoltz. But after giving up Bagwell's 16th home
run of the season and 435th of his career, Smoltz finished for his
26th save in 28 chances.

Chipper Jones contributed a pair of RBI singles as the NL
East-leading Braves won for the 10th time in 12 games. They have
won eight of their last 10 on the road.

Thomson (9-7) gave up two runs, striking out two and walking
one. He retired 11 of the last 12 hitters that he faced.

Thomson won for the fourth time in five decisions since June 28.
Chris Reitsma pitched a scoreless eighth and Smoltz took over in
the ninth.

It was Thomson's fastball that impressed Bagwell.

"To me, he was different than before. He was throwing a new
pitch. It was a hard slider or a cutter," Bagwell said. "I don't
remember him being that hard a thrower before. He threw the
fastball down and in and that's the whole philosophy of pitching."

Thomson also impressed Houston manager Phil Garner.

"On the other side, we couldn't crack the guy," Garner said.
"He threw the ball well. He located pretty well and his cutter was
deceptive."

Pete Munro (2-3) lasted only 4 1/3 innings, giving up four runs
on eight hits.

"They really didn't hit anything hard," Munro said. "They
just got enough of the bat on the ball and that one inning ended up
being big. I guess a couple of pitches got too much of the plate."

Garner agreed with Munro.

"It wasn't like he got rocketed. They got three broken-bat hits
and some other balls that were well placed," Garner said.

Atlanta took a 3-0 lead in the second inning, set up when Johnny
Estrada and Andruw Jones singled. Adam LaRoche hit an RBI double
and rookie Charles Thomas delivered a two-run double.

"Thomas has been exceptional in everything he has done,"
Atlanta manager Bobby Cox observed. "His defense has been
particularly good and he is hitting .333."

Houston cut its deficit to 3-1 in the fourth on an RBI single by
Lance Berkman.

The Braves added another run in the fifth when Nick Green
singled, J.D. Drew walked and Chipper Jones singled.

Adam Everett scored on a ground ball by Berkman to cut the
Braves' lead to 4-2 in the sixth.

Another RBI single by Chipper Jones gave the Braves a 5-2 lead
in the seventh.

Game notes
The Braves are 9-0-2 in their last 11 series ... Thomas is
hitting .212 (11-for-52) with the bases empty, .468 (22-for-47)
with runners on base and .417 (10-for-24) with runners in scoring
position ... Houston is 2-38 when trailing after seven innings and
0-44 when trailing after eight. ... Bagwell moved into sole
possession of 31st place on the all-time home run list, moving past
Juan Gonzalez ... Julio Franco's eighth-inning, pinch-hit single
was the 2,415th hit of his major league career, tying him with
Mickey Mantle for 94th on the all-time hit list. "To me it has a
lot of significance," Franco said. "It is a great accomplishment
because Mickey was one of the great ones."