MIAMI - Denny Neagle is intent on playing Meathead to Greg Maddux's Archie Bunker.
You know, All in the Family.
If he wins the Cy Young, and he's well on his way, the award will remain with the Atlanta Braves for a fifth straight year.
Neagle continued his second-half perfection Saturday night, extending his shutout streak to 16 consecutive innings and tying for the league win lead as the Braves spoiled the Florida Marlins plans for a series sweep by taking a 4-2 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 41,643 fans at Pro Player Stadium.
After seeing the Marlins slice two games off their division lead in consecutive nights, the Braves restored order to the pennant race and moved 6 1/2 games ahead with the victory.
"It was the biggest game of the season for us," Neagle said. "These guys have had our number. It's been awhile since we had a game of importance like this one. I'm not going to downplay it."
Neagle (15-2), who has lost just once in his last 13 starts, worked seven shutout innings, allowing four hits and a pair of walks. He is 3-0 since the All-Star break and is tied with Maddux and Houston's Darryl Kile for the league's most wins. Neagle hasn't given up a run since July 22 against the Cubs and he needs one more win to match last year's career-best total.
"Our bullpen was depleted, Neagle had to do what he did," manager Bobby Cox said. "He showed me something."
After making 115 pitches in the humid conditions, Neagle ran out of gas and departed. Looking toward a bullpen that had been overworked in the last two games, Cox chose rookie reliever Chad Fox to pitch the eighth.
As has become his custom, Fox got into two-out trouble. Before he could get a final out, he had given up three singles and two walks, good for a pair of runs, then left the bases loaded by striking out Kurt Abbott.
"It's a great learning experience," Fox said. "I'd rather learn now than when the playoffs come around."
Mark Wohlers worked the ninth and picked up his 26th save, but not before he issued a pair of two-out walks. Left fielder Danny Bautista made an outstanding catch against the bullpen wall of Bobby Bonilla's fly to end the game.
Al Leiter (8-7), who tossed a six-hitter in a 7-1 victory the last time he faced the Braves last September, limited Atlanta to four hits in seven innings, but three of them were costly.
Javier Lopez led the second inning with his 17th homer, snapping an 0-for-14 skid and giving the Braves their first homer in four games, their longest homerless stretch of the season.
Ryan Klesko had nine career triples and no more than four in any season before this one. He chose Saturday night to hike his season total to five, lining a Leiter pitch up the left-center field gap in the fourth, then scoring on Mark Lemke's shallow sacrifice fly to boost the lead to 2-0.
Bonilla's error on Lemke's grounder in the seventh haunted the Marlins. Kenny Lofton followed with a triple off the left field scoreboard, upping his hitting streak to nine games, and giving Neagle an insurance run.
Neagle was just a little bit better than Leiter. Coming off a 6-0 shutout of the Cubs last Monday, he escaped trouble in the first inning by getting a fly from Jeff Conine with a pair of runners on base, then stranded two more men in the third. Those were his only problems in six innings, a stretch that saw the Marlins pick up three hits and a pair of walks.
Following a walk to Bonilla in the third, Neagle retired the next 11 hitters he faced and didn't allow another hit until Charles Johnson's one-out double in the seventh.
"I've reached my goal, 15 wins," Neagle said. "I figure if you get 15 wins, you've had a pretty good season. But all joking aside, it doesn't mean I can coast from here."
The way things are going for the left-hander, he'll reach 20 wins before the end of the month.
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