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Hampton injured, relievers limit Rangers to one run

ATLANTA (AP) -- Javy Lopez made sure he didn't have to run hard
on his sore hamstring.

Lopez trotted around the bases after hitting a tiebreaking homer
in the seventh inning, lifting the Atlanta Braves to an 8-4 victory
over the Texas Rangers on Thursday.

The Braves completed a sweep of the three-game series and
extended Texas' season-high losing streak to six.

Lopez, who had missed five straight games with an ailing right
hamstring, led off the seventh by knocking a 0-1 pitch from Aaron
Fultz (1-1) into the left-field stands.

"I'm pretty impressed with myself," said Lopez, who is hitting
.303 with 14 homers. "I'm locked in."

Gary Sheffield also homered for the Braves, who overcame an
injury shortened start for Mike Hampton. He left the game in the
second with a strained groin, but six relievers limited the Rangers
to only one run over the final 7 1-3 innings.

Jung Bong (5-0) got out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh
after the Rangers tied it at 4 on a run-scoring double by Juan
Gonzalez. Third baseman Vinny Castilla leaned into the stands to
catch a foul popup, then Donnie Sadler flied out to center to end
the inning.

"We had a golden opportunity to open it up, but we couldn't
take advantage of it," manager Buck Showalter said.

Lopez put the Braves ahead for good with his 14th homer on a
pitch that Fultz said "was supposed to be a slider, but it didn't
slide very much." Atlanta poured it on in the eighth with three
runs against R.A. Dickey.

After two disappointing seasons, Lopez dropped 35 pounds and
committed himself to regaining the form he showed as a two-time
All-Star catcher.

So far, all the hard work is paying off.

"I always believed I was a better player than I was the last
two years," Lopez said. "I came out this year with a totally
positive mind."

Sheffield homered for the second game in a row, a 419-foot
driver over the center-field wall that gave the Braves a 1-0 lead
in the first. He has certainly emerged as an MVP candidate, batting
.354 with 16 homers and 15 RBIs.

"Same ol' Sheff," manager Bobby Cox said. "He does it every
day."

Hampton was charged with three runs during his brief appearance,
but none of them was earned because of an error by shortstop Rafael
Furcal to start the second.

Furcal bobbled a grounder by Mark Teixeira, who came all the way
around to score on Ryan Christenson's double. Todd Greene grounded
out and Sadler walked before pitcher Victor Santos put down a
sacrifice bunt.

Hampton pulled up as the ball rolled toward the mound and first
baseman Robert Fick had to get the out. Hampton left the game after
a brief conversation with the trainer and Cox.

"Normally, he would be all over that ball," the manager said. "He didn't even move. He said he could keep going, but I didn't
see much sense in it."

Hampton said he actually injured the groin in his last start,
but thought he could get through it. The Braves aren't sure if
he'll be able to make his next start.

"I tried to put it out of my mind, but my mind was doing one
thing and my body was doing another," he said. "I was hoping to
stay out there, but Bobby is a great manager. If I stayed out
there, it could have gotten worse."

Hampton started the season on the disabled list with a strained
right calf. He was activated April 19, but is still struggling to
escape the shadow of two miserable seasons in Colorado.

"Sooner or later, I have to step up," Hampton (2-3, 4.05 ERA)
said.

Trey Hodges, who replaced Hampton, allowed a two-run single to
Hank Blalock that put the Rangers ahead 3-1.

Santos, who was called up from the minors before the game,
couldn't hold the lead. He went five innings, allowing six hits and
four runs.

"I was pretty happy with the way I pitched today," Santos
said. "I wanted to be aggressive and keep the team in the game as
well as I could."

Lopez sparked a three-run outburst in the fifth with a leadoff
single. Santos walked Darren Bragg, batting just .136 coming into
the game, before pinch-hitter Matt Franco blooped a single to drive
in a run.

Furcal followed with an RBI single to left, tying the game at 3.
Marcus Giles put the Braves ahead with a groundout that allowed
Franco to trot home from third.

Game notes
Santos started in place of Joaquin Benoit, who went on the
DL with soreness in his elbow. ... Rangers 1B Rafael Palmeiro was
scratched from the lineup after his back stiffened up during
batting practice. ... Braves CF Andruw Jones continues to be
sidelined by several nagging injuries. He didn't start for the
fourth game in a row. ... Furcal was thrown out attempting to steal
for the first time this year. He had been successful on 11 straight
attempts before being called out on a disputed play at third. TV
replays showed Furcal got a hand on the bag before Blalock made the
tag.