Braves win 13th of 15, tie M's for best record

ATLANTA (AP) -- The Atlanta Braves soared to the top of the NL

East without much help from Javy Lopez. If he continues his recent

hot streak, who knows how far they might go.

Mark Bellhorn makes one of several fielding blunders for the hard-luck Cubs.
Mark Bellhorn makes one of several fielding blunders for the hard-luck Cubs.

Lopez came through for the second straight game, hitting an RBI

double to snap a seventh-inning tie and send Atlanta to a 5-1

victory over the Chicago Cubs on Thursday night.

The Braves won for the 13th time in 15 games and improved to

54-31, tied with Seattle for the best record in the majors. The

Cubs lost for the eighth time in 10 games.

''I don't know how many times I can do it,'' Lopez said.

He tied a season high with three hits to raise his average to

.245, and drove in two runs. Two of the hits were bloops into

shallow right field, which Lopez hopes signals a change in his


''Those two bloops were nice. I've hit so many balls hard this

year that were caught or called an error,'' he said. ''I hope this

gets me going.''

Mike Remlinger (6-0) struck out Sammy Sosa with the bases loaded

in the seventh to preserve a 1-all tie.

Mark Prior (2-2) allowed just three hits through six innings but

gave up a leadoff single to Chipper Jones in the seventh and hit

Andruw Jones with a 1-2 pitch. After Vinny Castilla popped to

third, Lopez lined a fastball off the base of the wall in

right-center for a 2-1 lead.

Chipper Jones scored easily, but a one-hop relay from second

baseman Mark Bellhorn nailed Andruw Jones at the plate by a couple

of steps.

''I can't wait for that fastball down the middle,'' Lopez said.

On Wednesday night, Lopez hit a game-winning infield single in

the ninth to give Atlanta a 6-5 victory over Montreal.

''I'll be glad to do it every day,'' he said.

The Braves added three in the eighth, helped by third baseman

Bill Mueller's two-out error. With runners at the corners, Mueller

couldn't handle Castilla's bouncer, allowing one run to score.

Lopez and Keith Lockhart followed with RBI singles off Tom

Gordon, extending the lead to 5-1. John Smoltz got out of a

bases-loaded, no-out jam in the ninth for his 29th save in 32


Prior, 21, and Jason Marquis, 23, were locked in a 1-1 tie

through six innings. The Braves scored in the first on a sacrifice

fly by Gary Sheffield, and the Cubs tied it in the third on Sosa's

RBI groundout.

Marquis struggled with his control, and it finally caught up to

him in the seventh. He issued a leadoff walk to Todd Hundley, then

walked Prior an out later. Remlinger came on to strike out Corey

Patterson before Mueller loaded the bases with an infield single,

bringing Sosa to the plate.

With flashbulbs popping all over the park, Sosa struck out

looking, watching a changeup curl over the inside corner.

''With the bases loaded, regardless of who's hitting, you have

to be aggressive,'' Remlinger said. ''With Sammy hitting, you have

to be aggressive and also try to make a pitch. I didn't want to go

away again with a fastball, so I figured I'd throw the changeup


Sosa dropped his bat and looked skyward, but didn't appear to

say anything to umpire Ed Rapuano.

''It was a hell of a pitch,'' Sosa said. ''He made the call.

What are you going to do?''

It was the second game in a row Remlinger got out of a jam. He

struck out two with the bases loaded in the seventh Wednesday night

against Montreal.

The Cubs threatened in the eighth against Chris Hammond, loading

the bases on Bellhorn's check-swing infield single. The ball

carried just out of Hammond's reach, and second baseman Lockhart

collided with Darren Lewis when he charged for the ball.

But pinch-hitter Moises Alou flied out to end the inning.

''That's been us all year,'' Chicago manager Don Baylor said.

''We load the bases three times and come away with no runs.''

Prior gave up two sharp singles to Rafael Furcal and a bloop hit

to Lopez through six innings, striking out five. After Furcal's

second single in the third, Prior retired 10 of the next 11 batters

before the Braves got to him in the seventh.

Even though he's been effective, Prior hasn't won since beating

the Mariners 2-0 June 12.

''I was doing the same thing I've been doing ever since I was

called up,'' he said. ''I'm upset at myself, because I thought I

was pitching well.''

Game notes
Furcal made his third error in two games, throwing high

to first after fielding a grounder by Hundley in the second inning.

... Furcal's single in the first extended his hitting streak to a

career-high 13 games. ... The crowd of 49,967 was Atlanta's fifth

sellout of the season.