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Houston at Atlanta

W: J. Thomson (3-2) L: B. Backe (2-2)
HR: HOU - M. Ensberg (3)   ATL - A. LaRoche (3)

Red-hot LaRoche helps Braves handle Houston

CBS SportsLine.com wire reports

ATLANTA -- After watching a teammate botch a grounder leading off the ninth, John Thomson turned around to pitch out of the stretch.

And that's when it hit him.

"I realized it was the first time I had been in the stretch since the fourth batter of the first inning," Thomson said, as if he really didn't believe it himself.

Thomson pitched a three-hitter and retired 27 of the last 29 batters for his first complete game since 2003, leading the Atlanta Braves past the slumping Houston Astros 9-3 on Thursday night.

Adam LaRoche homered and had a career-high four RBIs for the Braves, who pulled a half-game ahead of idle Florida for the top spot in the NL East with their 10th win in 13 games.

Thomson (3-2) gave up two runs in the first but dominated the rest of the way. He also had an RBI single in the sixth, when the Braves blew open the game with their second four-run inning.

"My job is to go out there and put zeros up," Thomson said. "You're a little bit relieved when your team scores a lot of runs. On the other hand, you can't relax. I go out there with the same intensity that I would in a 0-0 game."

Thomson was ahead in the count most of the night, throwing first-pitch strikes to all but eight of the 31 hitters in his first complete game since Aug. 24, 2003, while with the Texas Rangers.

"When they know they're not going to get ball one, ball two, they've got to put the ball in play," he said. "That works to my advantage. When they're getting aggressive early in the count, I can throw more balls out of the strike zone."

The Astros have lost eight straight road games, dropping to 1-11 outside of Houston. This is their worst stretch away from home since they lost 10 straight road games from May 16-June 8, 2000.

"We got two in the first and nothing else the rest of the way," manager Phil Garner said. "Nothing else. Just nothing. No hits at all. Two hits in the first and that was it."

LaRoche has seven RBIs over the past two games. Coming off a three-double performance the day before, he hit a three-run homer over the center-field wall in the first inning.

LaRoche drove in his fourth run with a bases-loaded groundout in the sixth. That eclipsed his previous career high of three RBIs in a game, accomplished most recently in Wednesday's victory over Florida.

"I can't go out there like a leadoff guy and try to work the count," LaRoche said. "I've got to be aggressive."

The Astros got off to a promising start. Willy Taveras led off with a bunt single, and Craig Biggio followed with a double into the left-field corner. Jose Vizcaino drove in the first run with a groundout, and Mike Lamb's sacrifice fly gave Houston a 2-0 lead.

Thomson was nearly unhittable the rest of the way. His lone mistake was a towering drive by Morgan Ensberg leading off the fifth, snapping Thomson's streak of 32 consecutive innings without giving up a homer.

The only other Houston baserunner reached in the ninth when shortstop Rafael Furcal let Tavares' grounder slip under his glove for an error.

Brandon Backe (2-2) couldn't do anything with his early lead. He gave up four straight hits in the bottom half of the first, including Chipper Jones' run-scoring single and LaRoche's 406-foot homer that put the Braves ahead 4-2.

That's the way it's been all year for Backe, who has given up 10 of his 27 runs in the first.

"It seemed like everything I threw up there, they were going to hit it," he said.

It didn't help that Backe was stricken with an upper respiratory infection that's been making the rounds through the Houston clubhouse. He went 5 1/3 innings, allowing nine hits and seven runs.

"I felt weak," Backe said. "I couldn't put anybody away."

Atlanta added to its lead on Furcal's RBI single in the fourth, then made it a rout by sending 10 batters to the plate in the sixth. Ryan Langerhans, filling in for center fielder Andruw Jones, led off with a double, and Thomson knocked out Backe with a run-scoring single to right.

Chad Harville took over, but he couldn't find the plate. Three straight walks brought home another run, and Brian Jordan finished off the inning with an RBI single.


Astros 1B Jeff Bagwell didn't play because of a sore right shoulder. ... Andruw Jones was a late scratch because of an aching back and didn't get in a game for the first time this season. ... Houston has lost three in a row and nine of 12.

Copyright 2017 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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Players of the Game

A. LaRoche
AB 5
R 1
H 1
HR 1

J. Thomson
IP 9.0
H 3
ER 3
BB 0
K 5

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Jason Lane, RF3000010 .267
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Houston Astros
Brandon Backe (L,2-2) 5.1977111 6.81
Chad Harville 0.2122410 5.14
Russ Springer 1000010 2.38
Dan Wheeler 0.1100000 2.13
John Franco 0.2000000 2.08
IBB - Estrada by Chad Harville
WP - Chad Harville (1)
Pitches-Strikes - Brandon Backe 86-54, Chad Harville 30-12, Russ Springer 15-10, Dan Wheeler 5-3, John Franco 3-3
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Brandon Backe 8-8, Chad Harville 1-0, John Franco 1-1
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Atlanta Braves
Rafael Furcal, SS4221100 .248
Marcus Giles, 2B3220201 .288
Chipper Jones, 3B4112103 .351
    Wilson Betemit, 3B0000000 .190
Adam LaRoche, 1B5114001 .237
Johnny Estrada, C4000111 .237
Brian Jordan, LF4021000 .240
Ryan Langerhans, CF4110015 .188
Raul Mondesi, RF4110002 .207
John Thomson, P3111010 .182
2B - Ryan Langerhans (1, Backe), Raul Mondesi (4, Backe)
HR - Adam LaRoche (3, Backe)
SH - John Thomson (4)
RBI - Rafael Furcal (12), Chipper Jones 2 (17), Adam LaRoche 4 (17), Brian Jordan (15), John Thomson (1)
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Batters Faced - John Thomson 31
Game Information
Attendance - 20553
Game Time - 2:27
Temperature - 59
Umpires - Home - Tony Randazzo, First Base - Ed Montague, Second Base - Jerry Layne, Third Base - Paul Emmel