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Sosa improves to 13-3 in beating Phillies

ATLANTA (AP) -- The Atlanta Braves are closing in on another
division title.

They owe a big thanks to Jorge Sosa.

A little-known journeyman before this season, Sosa has been a
major contributor to the Braves' playoff drive. On Tuesday night,
he pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings for his 13th win to lead Atlanta
to a 4-1 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.

"He's been a godsend," Chipper Jones said.

The Braves reduced their magic number to six for winning a 14th
straight division title. The Phillies lost ground on two fronts,
falling six games behind Atlanta in the NL East and two games
behind Houston in the wild-card race. The Astros beat Pittsburgh
7-4.

"These are like playoff games," Phillies third baseman David
Bell said. "Every game, every pitch, is so important now."

Sosa (13-3), acquired from Tampa Bay during spring training in a
seemingly minor deal for infielder Nick Green, has bolstered a
rotation that was weakened by injuries to Mike Hampton and John
Thomson.

The right-hander won for the fifth time in six starts,
solidifying a spot in Atlanta's possible postseason rotation. True
to his nickname -- teammates call him "Houdini" -- Sosa overcame a
career-high six walks.

"He's confident that he can always get himself out of it,"
Jones said, breaking into a smile, "and we're starting to come
around."

Sosa, who entered this season with a career record of 11-26,
surrendered two hits before giving way to Macay McBride.

McBride struck out Jason Michaels to end a seventh-inning
threat, Chris Reitsma pitched a scoreless eighth, and Kyle
Farnsworth allowed a run-scoring single to Jimmy Rollins with two
outs in the ninth. The Phillies had only three hits.

"I thank this organization for giving me the opportunity to win
13 games," Sosa said through an interpreter. "I can't say
anything bad about the Devil Rays, but it's great to be here with a
winning organization. I'm learning a lot from the veterans."

Sosa lowered his ERA to 2.45 and has as many wins this year as
Tim Hudson, the Braves' big acquisition last offseason. Sosa is
only one behind the team's top winner, All-Star John Smoltz.

Rafael Furcal had three hits, scored twice, drove in a run and
picked up his career-high 43rd stolen base.

"It doesn't mean anything," Furcal said. "I just try to go
play the game and try to steal as many bases as I can."

Andruw Jones added to his NL lead with his 126th RBI, while
Chipper Jones came on as a pinch hitter in the sixth to draw a walk
with the bases loaded; he was a little late getting to the park
because his wife delivered the couple's third child about 2½ hours
before the game.

"Mama's doing good, baby's doing good," Jones said. "I'm just
glad they're healthy and we got it out of the way early enough in
the day so I could make it down here in time to help out."

Sosa didn't allow a hit until Bell's one-out single in the fifth
and went on to beat the Phillies for the second time in six days,
following up a 6-4 win in Philadelphia last week.

Sosa pitched out of a major jam in the sixth. Kenny Lofton
doubled with one out, and walks to Chase Utley and Bobby Abreu
loaded the bases.

But Pat Burrell took a called third strike, and Braves first
baseman Adam LaRoche ended the threat with a nifty grab along the
line, running to the bag himself to retire Ryan Howard.

Sosa dodged more trouble in the seventh. With one on, Rollins
hit a towering drive down the right-field line, but the ball hooked
right of the pole by about 3 feet -- just missing a tying two-run
homer.

Rollins walked on the next pitch, Sosa's season-high 115th of
the night. It was his last, as manager Bobby Cox called in McBride.
Sosa walked off the mound to a standing ovation, twirling his hat
to the crowd.

"He just makes pitches when he has to," Braves catcher Johnny
Estrada said. "He gets himself into trouble, but he's got a slider
that seems invisible to hitters."

McBride struck out pinch-hitter Michaels on a disputed checked
swing, and the Braves doubled their lead with two runs in the
bottom half.

Cory Lidle (11-11) lasted 5 2/3 innings, giving up five hits and
two runs. He also was making his second straight start against the
same opponent, having picked up the win in a 12-4 rout of the
Braves last week.

The Phillies complained several times about umpire Joe
Brinkman's liberal strike zone, but manager Charlie Manuel said
that wasn't the real problem.

"We didn't hit," he said. "The umpires didn't beat us."

Game notes
Sosa, who started the season in the bullpen, improved to
10-3 in 18 starts. ... Furcal tied Otis Nixon's Atlanta record for
most stolen bases in a season. ... Lidle lost to the Braves for the
first time in five career decisions. ... The Phillies took no
chances with MVP candidate Andruw Jones, walking him twice
intentionally. ... Sosa had walked five in a game five times, most
recently on Aug. 5, 2004, while pitching for Tampa Bay against
Oakland.