Braves win 12th consecutive series

ATLANTA (AP) -- Javy Lopez doesn't get to start when Greg Maddux

pitches, but he was in there when it counted.

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color="#666666">Lopez

Lopez hit an infield single off third baseman Fernando Tatis'

glove to score Vinny Castilla in the ninth inning and give the

Atlanta Braves a 6-5 victory over the Montreal Expos on Wednesday

night.

The Braves won their 12th straight series and stretched their

lead over second-place Montreal to 9½ games in the NL East.

With two outs in the ninth, Jim Brower (3-1) hit Castilla with a

pitch and gave up a single to Keith Lockhart, moving Castilla to

third. Lopez hit a sharp grounder to third that bounced off Tatis

and rolled toward the Montreal dugout.

Lopez easily beat out the hit as Castilla scored the winning

run.

"I hit the ball pretty hard,'' Lopez said. "I even forgot

Vinny was on third base, but while I was running, I saw him come in

and said, 'That's it.'''

Lopez doesn't start when Maddux pitches but entered the game in

the ninth inning.

"It was supposed to be my off day,'' Lopez said. "I was

concentrating as much as I could to just finish that game right

there. But things worked out, and I got my rest, too.''

Closer John Smoltz (1-2) pitched one scoreless inning for the

win, his first since last September.

"I'm not going to get many wins, so it was kind of a bonus,''

he said.

Julio Franco tied the game in the eighth with a two-out double.

The Braves' bullpen entered the game with an 18-9 record and a

2.31 ERA, but reliever Chris Hammond couldn't protect a 4-3 lead in

the eighth. Jose Vidro reached on a two-base throwing error by

shortstop Rafael Furcal and scored on Guerrero's double.

After Guerrero moved to third on a sacrifice by Troy O'Leary and

Fernando Tatis struck out, Orlando Cabrera hit a sharp single up

the middle.

"We did battle, but we didn't do enough,'' Montreal manager

Frank Robinson said. "The effort was there. That's why it's tough

to take.''

Maddux had been hampered in his past three starts with a sore

calf muscle but appeared stronger, allowing three runs -- two earned

-- and five hits in 6 1/3 innings. He still hasn't lost in his past

12 starts.

Mike Remlinger got out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh by

striking out pinch-hitter Andres Galarraga and Jose Macias with

nearly identical 93 mph fastballs on the outside corner.

With the Braves trailing 1-0, Lockhart led off the fifth with a

single to center, just the second hit off Tony Armas Jr. Lockhart

scored two outs later on a double by Furcal, and Matt Franco hit

his fifth homer, matching his career high in just 46 at-bats.

Montreal closed to 3-2 in the sixth on Vidro's second RBI

groundout of the game, but the Braves got the run back in their

half of the inning on a bases-loaded walk by pinch-hitter Julio

Franco.

"The Francos, the Lockharts and the Furcals -- they got the kind

of production from the little guys you don't expect,'' Robinson

said.

Maddux ran into trouble in the seventh, giving up a one-out

double to Tatis and a single to Cabrera. Cabrera then stole second,

and Tatis scored on the play when Furcal dropped the ball while

covering second.

Maddux left after walking Michael Barrett, and reliever Kevin

Gryboski forced home a run by walking Wil Cordero. But Remlinger

came in to get out of the jam.

Game notes

Furcal's single in the in the fifth gave him a 12-game

hitting streak, tying a career high. ... The start of the game was

delayed 30 minutes by rain. Neither team took batting practice.