Maddux outduels Oswalt to help Braves win again

HOUSTON (AP) -- Greg Maddux and the Atlanta Braves are putting it
all together at the same time.

Maddux pitched seven sharp innings to win his third straight
decision and Gary Sheffield hit a two-run single as Atlanta beat
the Houston Astros 3-1 Tuesday night.

The Braves have won 12 of 14 following a 4-8 start, and Maddux
also has recovered nicely.

"I felt like I got away with a lot of mistakes the first couple
of innings,'' he said. "But I pitched better the last couple of
innings. The first couple of games, it seemed like they whacked it
pretty good. Since then I've been catching some breaks.''

The right-hander lost his first three starts for the first time
in his career, at which point he had an 11.05 ERA. But he held
Houston to just one run and five hits, outpitching Roy Oswalt.

"At this time, the biggest thing is I've gotten outs on
mistakes,'' Maddux said. "But that's the way it goes. The first
couple of games, I didn't pitch that bad, and the last couple of
games I haven't pitched that good.''

John Smoltz worked the ninth for his 10th save in as many tries
and 26th in a row dating to last season. He struck out Brad Ausmus
with two runners on to end it.

"The only selfish goals I have are to pitch in as many games as
we win,'' Smoltz said. "I don't want to blow two in a row. I guess
I want to keep the streak alive as long as I can.''

The Astros got a run in the first inning when Geoff Blum singled
to left field and scored on Jeff Kent's double to the right-center

After that, Maddux (3-3) limited the Astros to three hits and
didn't allow a runner past second base. He struck out five and
didn't walk a batter, improving to 22-9 lifetime against Houston.

Oswalt (2-3) got off to his second consecutive rough start,
allowing two runs and four hits in the first inning. He gave up
three runs in the first three innings last Wednesday in a 4-2 loss
to the New York Mets.

This time, Rafael Furcal singled and Marcus Giles doubled to
start the game before Sheffield drove in both runners with a single
just inside the third-base line.

"When things are going bad, everything seems to fall in,''
Oswalt said. "The first inning, they hit a ball on the line, then
they got two runs fast and after that I settled down.

"My mechanics felt good. I threw the ball good. It was just in
the first inning that two balls got through and they got two runs
and that was enough.''

After a single by Robert Fick with two outs, Oswalt settled into
a rhythm and retired the next 14 batters until he walked Sheffield
with one out in the sixth.

After the walk, Chipper Jones got a line drive single off first
baseman Jeff Bagwell's glove and Andruw Jones followed with an RBI
single off the left-field scoreboard.

Oswalt went seven innings, allowing six hits. He struck out
seven and walked two.

"Roy pitched a good game, but Maddux pitched better,'' Astros
manager Jimy Williams said. "He minimized the damage in the first
inning, then he battled back and kept us in the game.

"But Maddux was too tough.''

Game notes
Fick came off the disabled list after recovering from a
sprained right shoulder and started at first base. ... Houston
returned home from a 13-game road trip. ... Thirteen of Houston's
17 errors came in the first 13 games. ... Bagwell went 0-for-4,
snapping his seven-game hitting streak. ... Astros OF Lance Berkman
was ejected after a called third strike leading off the seventh
inning when he argued with plate umpire Terry Craft.