Braves' Hampton wins seventh straight

ATLANTA (AP) -- Mike Hampton is doing his best to erase the

memory of two miserable seasons in Colorado.

Hampton pitched three-hit ball over eight innings, winning his

seventh decision in a row as the Atlanta Braves got some payback

with a 7-1 victory over the San Diego Padres on Wednesday night.

Chipper Jones and Vinny Castilla homered for the Braves, while

Gary Sheffield drove in three runs and extended his hitting streak

to 17 games.

But all eyes were on Hampton (10-5), who reached double-figure

wins for the seventh time in eight years.

"I'm just getting more and more comfortable with my sinker,"

he said. "That's my formula for success. Use my sinker early, and

be able to use it when I need an out."

That wasn't the case in the thin air of Colorado, which reduced

the downward movement of his pitches and, when he tried to adjust,

screwed up his mechanics. Hampton went 7-15 last year, and his 6.14

ERA was the highest for any qualifying starter in the National


After being traded to the Braves, Hampton needed a few months to

find his consistency. But he's on a roll now, going 7-0 with a 3.57

ERA over his last eight starts -- his longest winning streak since

he took 11 in a row for the Houston Astros in 1999 on the way to a

career-best 22-4 record.

"His ball is moving all over the place," Sheffield said.

"They really didn't get a lot of good swings against him. I'm glad

he's on our team."

Hampton pitched his first complete game in more than two years

last week, beating Milwaukee 7-1. Over his last two starts, he has

allowed just eight hits.

Hampton didn't get a chance for his second straight complete

game. Manager Bobby Cox lifted his starter for a pinch-hitter,

deciding that 99 pitches was enough with a comfortable lead.

Cox also wanted to get a look at Kent Mercker, acquired from

Cincinnati on Tuesday. The left-hander pitched a scoreless ninth in

his return to Atlanta, receiving a standing ovation on his way to

the mound.

"I really wasn't expecting anything," said Mercker, who was

with the Braves from 1989-95. "I just wanted to come in under the

radar, get three outs and get out of here. But it was fun."

San Diego, with the worst record in the National League, opened

the three-game series Tuesday with a 14-4 rout of the NL's best

team, tying a franchise record with 24 hits. They followed up with

four measly hits.

"Every day is different in this business," Padres manager

Bruce Bochy said. "We couldn't do anything wrong last night, and

we couldn't do anything offensively tonight. That's the way it goes

in this game."

The Braves set the tone right away, opening with three straight

hits against Kevin Jarvis (4-5). Marcus Giles had an RBI double and

Sheffield followed with a run-scoring single for a quick 2-0 lead.

"The most important thing is we won the game after a disastrous

loss," Sheffield said. "We bounced back and showed what kind of

team we are. We've been doing that all year."

Jones homered in his second straight game since getting some

hitting advice from his dad, former college coach Larry Jones. The

left fielder led off the third with a mammoth 428-foot drive into

the right-field bleachers for his 20th homer of the season.

"He's swinging much better," Cox said. "He's got his power

slot back."

Sheffield picked up two more RBI in the fourth with a two-out

double, driving home Rafael Furcal and Giles to put the Braves

ahead 5-1.

Castilla broke an 0-for-13 slump in the fifth, hitting a two-run

shot for his 19th homer.

Jarvis went five innings, giving up 11 hits and all seven runs

for his third straight loss. The Braves scored four of their runs

with two-out hits.

"As a pitcher, you want to be aggressive," he said. "It

doesn't matter if there's one out or two."

The Padres put together two of their hits in the fourth, with

Mark Kotsay singling in a run.

^Notes:@ Furcal matched his career high with four hits. ... The

Padres are now 0-3 in games after scoring 10 runs. ... The Braves

now have four hitters with at least 20 homers, and Castilla is just

one away. ... Giles has 38 doubles, tying Bret Boone's Atlanta

record for second basemen. ... Ramon Vazquez had San Diego's other

hit against Hampton. ... Mercker is wearing No. 50, the same number

he had during his previous stint in Atlanta. Will Cunnane had been

wearing that number, but he switched to 26.