Padres win 15th of 18, move into first place

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Once John Smoltz was out of the game, it was time for another comeback by the San Diego Padres.

Khalil Greene singled in the winning run with one out in the ninth inning and the Padres rallied for the third straight game, beating the Atlanta Braves 3-2 on Tuesday night for their sixth straight victory.

The Padres won for the 15th time in 18 games and took sole possession of first place in the NL West.

"It's a great sign that they keep fighting, and that's what it takes," manager Bruce Bochy said. "Every game they go hard for nine innings and battle their tails off. It's been great baseball. I've enjoyed it."

It might have been a costly win, though. All-Star second baseman Mark Loretta sprained his left thumb diving into first base while beating out an infield single in the third inning. He will be re-evaluated on Wednesday.

Loretta ruptured a ligament in the same thumb during spring training in 2001, requiring surgery that kept him out for the first 1½ months of the season.

"He's a guy we'll miss if he's out for a long time," Bochy said.

The Padres' comeback spoiled a strong effort by Smoltz, who allowed just one run on four hits in eight innings for the Braves.

Smoltz said he expended too much energy in the eighth, when he allowed Greene's RBI double.

"I thought I was good to go nine," Smoltz said. "But the eighth got to be too much. You can't push the envelope too much."

The Padres knew they had a good opportunity.

"I'd lying if I said no," Nevin said. "A guy like John Smoltz, he's a Hall of Famer for one, and he had his stuff tonight. He was on."

Dan Kolb (1-4) blew a save for the third time in 13 chances by allowing three hits and two walks in the ninth.

With the Padres trailing 2-1, Ryan Klesko walked leading off the ninth and took third on Giles' single to right field. Klesko scored
the tying run on Nevin's chopper to shortstop for the first out.

"I knew I just had to try to get a ball in play, and fortunately I just found the front edge of home plate," Nevin said.

Ramon Hernandez singled to left to move Giles to third, and Sean Burroughs was intentionally walked to load the bases. Greene followed with a single on an 0-2 pitch to bring in Giles with the winning run.

"When good things happen, you just try to ride it out as long as you can," Nevin said. "Last year it seemed like we didn't get many breaks. Right now balls are falling. Sure, there's some reason to be excited, but we want to keep it on an even keel and play our
brand of baseball and win games at home."

Dennys Reyes (2-0) got the final out of the ninth for the win.

The Padres scored three runs in the eighth inning Monday night to beat the Braves 5-3, and scored 10 in the seventh Sunday to beat the Marlins 12-4.

"This is a hot ballclub and they are finding ways to win," Smoltz said of the Padres.

The Braves have led in the eighth or ninth inning in each of their last four losses.

Smoltz allowed just one run on four hits, struck out five and walked two. He retired 14 of his last 16 batters.

Smoltz held the Padres scoreless until the eighth. Greene reached on a leadoff double to left, advanced on pinch-hitter Mark Sweeney's groundout to first and scored on Dave Roberts' sacrifice fly to center.

In the top of the eighth, Andruw Jones gave Smoltz some breathing room with a two-out solo homer off Akinori Otsuka, his 10th, for a 2-0 lead.

Darrell May held the Braves in check until the fifth inning, when Rafael Furcal hit a sacrifice fly. Raul Mondesi drew a leadoff walk and advanced on Wilson Betemit's single and Smoltz's sacrifice before scoring on Furcal's fly to center.

May lasted five innings in his second start of the season, allowing one run and three hits. He struck out three and walked two.

Game notes
Loretta stayed in the game after hurting his thumb but came out after the fourth inning. ... Betemit started in place of Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, who was scratched from the lineup because of a strained muscle in his left side. Jones is listed as day-to-day. ... The Padres have the best home record in the major leagues,
15-4. ... San Diego is 12-3 in one-run games and has won 10 straight.