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Hampton posts ninth straight victory

8/24/2003

DENVER (AP) -- With his sinker again staying up in the zone at
Coors Field, Mike Hampton started pitching inside.

See, he did learn something during his two miserable seasons in
Colorado.

Hampton won in his return to Coors Field, earning his ninth
straight victory as the Atlanta Braves held off the Colorado
Rockies 5-4 Saturday night.

"My sinker wasn't working too well so I went to pitching
inside, kind of like I've had some success here in the past,"
Hampton said. "The balls they hit just cut back across the middle
and were up. When I had success I was able to bury the ball in or
keep the ball down in the zone."

Colorado signed Hampton (12-5) to the richest contract ever for
a pitcher -- eight years, $121 million -- with hopes he could become
the staff ace. Instead, his ERA soared and his confidence plummeted
in the altitude of Coors Field.

After watching Hampton struggle to a 21-28 record and a 5.75 ERA
in two seasons, the Rockies traded him to Atlanta during the
offseason in a three-way deal that included Florida.

It was the best move of Hampton's career.

After opening the season 3-5, he is 9-0 with a 3.47 ERA in 10
starts and hasn't lost since giving up nine runs in a 20-1 loss to
Florida on July 1.

Against the Rockies, Hampton allowed 11 hits and four runs in 6
2-3 innings in his first start at Coors since giving up 10 runs and
three homers to San Francisco last Aug. 29.

"He pitched a super game," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "I
know he gave up a lot of hits, but you could give up 11 here and
have a shutout, too. I thought he was good. That was a well-pitched
game."

Gary Sheffield had a three-run double, Andruw Jones hit his 31st
homer and Javy Lopez got three hits for Atlanta, which has won six
straight over the Rockies.

The Braves scored 14 runs in two games against Colorado,
matching their total the previous five games.

Jay Payton homered and drove in two runs for Colorado, which
lost for just the fourth time in 21 home series this season. The
Rockies had plenty of chances against their former teammate, but
left 12 runners on base.

"We had him on the ropes, but it came down to getting a timely
hit," Colorado's Larry Walker said. "We had a lot of
opportunities to get big hits and we didn't get them."

Hampton said on Friday that he didn't regret his time in Denver,
but Rockies fans certainly acted like they did.

A chorus of boos rang out when Hampton was introduced before the
game, and it got even louder when he took the mound in the first
inning.

The Rockies weren't any more hospitable in the early going.

Ronnie Belliard led off the game with a double to right, and
Payton hit a solo homer to deep left in the second inning, his
career-high 18th of the year. Juan Uribe also had a single that
nearly hit Hampton in the head.

The third inning started with Charles Johnson hitting Hampton's
first pitch down the line in left for a double, and Belliard made
it 3-0 with a two-run double to center after pitcher Chin-hui Tsao
singled up the middle.

But Hampton was able to settle down.

He allowed one hit over the next three innings, giving up one
run in the seventh after Todd Helton and Preston Wilson opened the
inning with consecutive singles.

Hampton received high-fives from his teammates after being
replaced by Trey Hodges with two outs in the seventh, but Rockies
fans weren't too impressed. They booed him every step of the way.

"I really didn't notice too much," said Hampton, who has
allowed seven earned runs his last 31 2-3 innings. "I know there's
probably some boos and some cheers, and I understand that. If I can
handle New York, I can definitely handle this place."

John Smoltz struck out the side in the ninth for his 44th save
in 47 chances.

Tsao (2-2) got off to a fast start, keeping the Braves
off-balance over the first four innings.

Then he ran into trouble in the fifth.

Jones led off with a homer, and Lopez and Vinny Castilla
followed with consecutive one-out singles. Tsao walked Hampton to
load the bases, then Rafael Furcal made it 3-2 with a run-scoring
single.

Tsao struck out Marcus Giles for the second out, but Sheffield
chased him with a three-run double to the wall in left-center that
put the Braves up 5-3.

Tsao allowed five runs on six hits in 4 2-3 innings.

"Tsao pitched well," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "For
four innings, he pitched better than you could have wanted him
to."

Game notes
Colorado INF Mark Bellhorn and C Bobby Estalella both
turned 29 Saturday. ... Lopez returned after missing two games with
a bruised left shin.