SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Mike Hampton asked himself many a time in recent years: "Am I being told something? Is it time to go, to pack it up?"
Not just yet.
Hampton earned his first victory in nearly three years and hit an RBI double, leading the Atlanta Braves past the San Francisco Giants 11-4 on Tuesday night.
The 35-year-old Hampton felt great about this outing. He was the closest to his old self he can remember in a long time. He hadn't won since Aug. 14, 2005, for the Braves against Arizona — 1,087 days earlier — and wondered if he would ever get another 'W' by his name.
"There's always been some doubt with all the things I've been through, all the health issues," Hampton said. "I just kept pushing to get to this point I'm at today. One thing I've learned through this whole process is don't take anything for granted — cherish every single one of them."
And this was just his third start of 2008 after he returned July 26 following a nearly three-year absence in which the two-time All-Star underwent two major surgeries on his left elbow.
This season, he was sidelined by both a strained chest muscle and an injured groin.
"He was the bulldog Hampton tonight," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He had the super-duper sinker going. He was just outstanding. Hopefully he's not too sore tomorrow. It's been a long time since he's done this. The bulldog was on the attack, getting ahead of hitters. It's big for the team to get Mike a win."
Hampton (1-0) allowed four hits and two runs in seven innings and improved to 14-4 in 25 career appearances against the Giants with his first win over them since May 11, 2003, which also was his last start versus San Francisco. He lowered his ERA from 10.00 to 6.75.
Hampton drove in his third run of the year during a stretch of three straight two-out doubles off Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez (8-8) in the fifth. Brian McCann led off the inning with a single and scored when Martin Prado grounded into a double play two batters later. Kelly Johnson doubled, Hampton followed with his second hit of 2008 and Yunel Escobar doubled Hampton home moments later.
"He started making some mistakes," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Sanchez. "He was getting up there as far as his pitch count and he started elevating a little bit, and that's a dangerous club over there. They swing the bats."
Escobar also had a sacrifice fly for the Braves, who will secure their first series win in four tries if they take Wednesday's rubber game. Omar Infante had a two-run double during Atlanta's five-run ninth, when Casey Kotchman also doubled in a run and pinch-hitter Greg Norton and Mark Kotsay had RBIs.
The Giants rallied in the eighth, getting back-to-back RBI singles by Aaron Rowand and Bengie Molina before Will Ohman and Blaine Boyer each struck out a batter with runners on first and second to end the threat.
Fred Lewis ended a 12-game homerless streak by San Francisco with a solo shot leading off the seventh and Jose Castillo drove in the first run for the Giants, who had won three of four.
But Lewis' drive was about Hampton's only mistake.
"That's about as comfortable as I could feel," Hampton said. "I'm pretty excited to get one. It feels great. ... I'll have a chance to reflect on it the next few days."
Bochy said the Giants might discuss whether skipping a start by Sanchez or decreasing his workload could be a good idea considering his recent struggles. But the left-hander, in his first full season as a starter, looked much better commanding his pitches during this outing. He struck out five and didn't walk a batter for the first time all year.
He went 0-3 with an 8.57 ERA in July and is winless in six starts since June 29.
Cox said injured starter Tom Glavine would make his third rehab appearance Saturday for Double-A Mississippi. Glavine has been on the disabled list since June 11 with a strained left elbow.<
- Unemployed and indicted home run king Barry Bonds, 44, has been invited to Saturday's pregame festivities honoring past Giants outfielders from the last five decades, part of the club's 50th anniversary celebration. No word yet whether No. 25 will show, though considering he hasn't been to the ballpark in any official capacity since the Giants parted ways with him in September it seems unlikely. Unlike Bonds, the rest of the players invited are retired.
- Friends and fans of longtime Braves broadcaster Skip Caray, who died on Sunday, were invited to attend a memorial service in Atlanta on Monday. A separate private service is planned for family members and the Braves are planning to honor Caray on Tuesday at Turner Field.
- Recently retired San Francisco LHP Steve Kline has begun work as a pitching instructor for the organization and will soon begin working with players at Class-A San Jose.