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Houston at Atlanta

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Houston000101002471
Atlanta «33003000x9110

Balanced Braves spoil Berkman's return to Astros

CBS SportsLine.com wire reports
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ATLANTA -- John Smoltz's back was aching, but it sure didn't show on the mound.

While Atlanta roughed up Roy Oswalt, Smoltz allowed only two hits in five innings for his third straight win, leading the Braves past the slumping Houston Astros 9-4 on Friday night.

Johnny Estrada hit a three-run homer and six of his teammates also had RBI. The surging Braves -- they've won 11 of 14 -- outscored Houston 18-7 in the first two games of the four-game series.

Smoltz (3-3) strained a muscle in the middle of his back while coughing a few days ago. He thought the pain had gone away, but it returned while he warmed up before the game.

The right-hander still managed to retire the first 10 hitters and give up only run before coming out after the fifth -- long enough to qualify for the win.

"I hate doing bare minimum stuff," Smoltz said. "But today I had no option."

While the injury wasn't thought to be serious, he's willing to sit out his next start at Colorado if the back is still bothering him.

"I'm glad I got through it," Smoltz said. "But obviously I don't want this to linger."

The Astros knew they had squandered a chance to produce some runs against the hard-throwing right-hander.

"Smoltz didn't look unhittable," manager Phil Garner said.

Oswalt (4-3), a 20-game winner last season who beat Atlanta in the deciding fifth game of the division series, gave up 10 hits and nine runs -- including a career-high seven earned runs -- in a grim five-inning stint.

"I thought it was the best fastball he's had all year," Garner said. "That's why I stayed with him as long as I did."

Oswalt didn't get much help from his defense, either. The Astros misplayed two fly balls in Atlanta's three-run second, and Lance Berkman, playing out of position in his return from the disabled list, made a throwing error at first base that led to a pair of unearned runs in the fifth.

"I feel better tonight than I have in a long time. That's the funny thing," said Oswalt, who's been bothered by a sprained foot. "A few balls here and there could have been caught."

Berkman went 0-for-4 in his first game since offseason surgery, needed after he tore up his right knee in a flag football game. He's a welcome addition for the Astros, who have lost four in a row and 10 of their last 13.

But Houston is still hurting. Berkman played first with Jeff Bagwell missing his third straight game because of a sore shoulder. Bagwell is unlikely to start the rest of the series.

The Braves got off to a quick start against Oswalt -- Rafael Furcal and Marcus Giles led off the first with singles -- but the right-hander had a chance to escape when he fanned Adam LaRoche for the second out.

Oswalt couldn't get by Estrada, however. The Braves' catcher got hold of a curve at his ankles, golfing the pitch into the right-field seats for a 3-0 lead and his first homer since Sept. 10 of last season.

"I'm disappointed in the way I've started the season offensively," said Estrada, hitting just .237. "But I'm not a home run hitter. If I was trying to hit homers, I'd probably be hitting .140."

The Braves scored three more in the second while the Astros staggered around in the outfield. Again, Atlanta struck for all its runs with two outs.

Furcal hit a drive to the edge of the warning track in left, potentially the third out until Mike Lamb circled the wrong way, stuck out his glove out too far in a futile attempt to catch the ball and almost got hit in the arm. Furcal sped around to third, credited with an RBI triple.

Giles followed with a liner to center. Willy Tavares probably could have caught the ball without moving, but he broke to his right, then scrambled back too late to reach a ball that fell in for a run-scoring double. Chipper Jones finished off the inning with an RBI double of his own.

The Braves had another three-run outburst in the fifth. After Giles led off with a double, Jones hit a grounder to Berkman, but the neophyte first baseman made an errant throw to Oswalt covering the bag.

Berkman, normally an outfielder, started at first for the first time in his seven-year career to take some of the strain off his knee. But his error cleared the way to another big inning. LaRoche singled in a run, Brian Jordan had a sacrifice fly and Andruw Jones chipped in with an RBI single.

"I'm not 100 percent, but I'm good enough to where I feel like I can be competitive," Berkman said. "I just need to be out there."

Raul Mondesi and Smoltz were the only Atlanta starters who didn't have an RBI.

Houston's Jason Lane hit his team-high fifth homer in the ninth, a two-run shot.

Notes

  • Lamb drove in the other two Houston runs.
  • Berkman has played eight games at first base in his career.
  • Giles is 5-for-7 in two games against Astros. He came into the series mired in an 0-for-16 slump.
  • Estrada's three RBI equaled his career high.
  • Oswalt has yet to beat the Braves in five regular-season starts, going 0-2 with a 6.41 ERA.
 
Copyright 2014 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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John Smoltz helps his cause with a sacrifice bunt to earn his third consecutive win. (AP)
John Smoltz helps his cause with a sacrifice bunt to earn his third consecutive win. (AP)

Players of the Game
Atlanta

M. Giles
AB 4
R 2
H 3
HR 0
RBI 1
Houston

M. Lamb
AB 4
R 1
H 3
HR 0
RBI 2
 

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Houston Astros
Willy Taveras, CF4010000 .277
Craig Biggio, 2B4120012 .324
Lance Berkman, 1B4000003 .000
    Chad Harville, P0000000 .000
Mike Lamb, LF-1B4132000 .286
Morgan Ensberg, 3B4000014 .270
Jason Lane, RF4112010 .266
Adam Everett, SS4000000 .223
Raul Chavez, C4000010 .243
Roy Oswalt, P1000000 .125
   a- Eric Bruntlett, PH0100100 .000
    Brandon Duckworth, P0000000 .667
   b- Orlando Palmeiro, PH-LF1000000 .235
Totals34474149 
a-walked for Oswalt in the 6th
b-grounded out for Duckworth in the 8th
Batting
2B - Mike Lamb (6, Smoltz)
HR - Jason Lane (5, Colon)
RBI - Mike Lamb 2 (17), Jason Lane 2 (15)
2-OUT RBI - Mike Lamb 2 (8)
Team LOB - 4
Fielding
DP - Ensberg-Biggio-Berkman
E - Lance Berkman (1, Wild throw)
Houston Astros
Roy Oswalt (L,4-3) 51097051 4.30
Brandon Duckworth 2100010 9.69
Chad Harville 1000020 4.50
Pitches-Strikes - Roy Oswalt 83-52, Brandon Duckworth 20-14, Chad Harville 14-10
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Roy Oswalt 9-2, Brandon Duckworth 3-1
Batters Faced - Roy Oswalt 26, Brandon Duckworth 6, Chad Harville 3
Atlanta Braves
Rafael Furcal, SS4221011 .256
Marcus Giles, 2B4231001 .310
    Kevin Gryboski, P0000000 .000
    Wilson Betemit, 3B0000000 .190
Chipper Jones, 3B4211002 .346
    Adam Bernero, P0000000 .000
    Roman Colon, P0000000 .000
Adam LaRoche, 1B4111023 .238
Johnny Estrada, C4113010 .238
Brian Jordan, LF2001000 .235
   a- Ryan Langerhans, PH-LF1000000 .182
Andruw Jones, CF4121020 .257
Raul Mondesi, RF4000012 .198
John Smoltz, P1000010 .167
    Jorge Sosa, P0000000 .000
   b- Pete Orr, PH-2B1010000 .319
Totals339119089 
a-flied out for Jordan in the 8th
b-singled for Sosa in the 6th
Batting
2B - Marcus Giles 2 (9, Oswalt, Oswalt), Chipper Jones (9, Oswalt)
3B - Rafael Furcal (1, Oswalt)
HR - Johnny Estrada (1, Oswalt)
SF - Brian Jordan (1)
SH - John Smoltz (2)
RBI - Rafael Furcal (13), Marcus Giles (4), Chipper Jones (18), Adam LaRoche (18), Johnny Estrada 3 (13), Brian Jordan (16), Andruw Jones (14)
2-OUT RBI - Rafael Furcal (3), Marcus Giles (1), Chipper Jones (7), Johnny Estrada 3 (8), Andruw Jones (8)
Team LOB - 2
Atlanta Braves
John Smoltz (W,3-3) 5211020 3.05
Jorge Sosa 1211110 3.27
Kevin Gryboski 1000000 1.29
Adam Bernero 1100000 3.00
Roman Colon 1222011 8.00
Pitches-Strikes - John Smoltz 46-36, Jorge Sosa 23-11, Kevin Gryboski 12-8, Adam Bernero 14-8, Roman Colon 19-13
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - John Smoltz 6-7, Kevin Gryboski 2-1, Adam Bernero 2-1
Batters Faced - John Smoltz 17, Jorge Sosa 6, Kevin Gryboski 3, Adam Bernero 4, Roman Colon 5
Game Information
Attendance - 26987
Game Time - 2:09
Temperature - 69
Umpires - Home - Ed Montague, First Base - Jerry Layne, Second Base - Paul Emmel, Third Base - Tony Randazzo