Paul Byrd had been among the most impressive relievers of the Atlanta Braves during the first two weeks of games, but he threw the bullpen doors wide open to all candidates by giving up a grand slam to Shawon Dunston in the seventh inning of Wednesday afternoon's 13-9 victory over the Indians.
Brian Edmondson didn't boost his candidacy either. The right-hander, attempting to make the staff after being selected from the Mets in December's Rule 5 draft, yielded three hits and a run in the eighth inning.
Finally, Mike Cather topped off a bad afternoon for the relief corps by giving up a home run to Pat Borders in the ninth.
Atlanta's offense more than made up for the pitching deficiency. Trailing 8-5 in the eighth inning, the Braves sent 14 men to the plate, amassed seven hits, four walks and scored eight runs.
During the barrage, George Lombard reached the plate twice and had a two-run triple and a single and Gene Schall had a pair of hits and two RBI. ...
BREAKING LOOSE: Andruw Jones snapped out of his spring blahs with a pair of hits, including his first homer, and drove in a pair of runs. He entered the game with only four hits in 28 at-bats and had begun to hear a tone of concern from manager Bobby Cox.
"I've got to start kicking it in a little bit," Jones said. "Everybody was concerned, so I started making adjustments."
ON REBOUND: John Smoltz threw batting practice for a second time Wednesday and received favorable reviews. Javier Lopez was one of the hitters and he noticed Smoltz's velocity.
"He hasn't lost any velocity on his fastball," Lopez said. "He looked pretty good to me."
Smoltz threw fastballs in his first appearance Monday, then mixed in three sliders Wednesday without feeling any pain in his elbow.
"They tell me the ball is coming out harder than I think I'm throwing it," he said.
INNOCENT: Three men who were accused of using baseball great Ted Williams' championship rings to extort money from his son were found innocent by a federal jury Wednesday in Boston.
Acquitted on charges of extortion and selling stolen property were Philip Castinetti, 41, of Revere; Daniel P. Dunn, 25, of East Falmouth, and Gary Raso, 34, of Wakefield. Castinetti, who owns the Sportsworld memorabilia shop in Everett, was visibly relieved after the verdict was read.
"It's been torture for everybody. It never had to happen that way," he said.
The three defendants were arrested Dec. 4 by the FBI in a sting operation when they met with Williams' son, John-Henry Williams, who said he was interested in getting the rings back.
But the jury apparently doubted John-Henry Williams' story that the rings had been stolen, and instead believed the defendants, who said they believed they had obtained the rings legitimately.
John-Henry Williams could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
The saga began in the basement of former Maine state Trooper Rodney Nichols. He said his longtime friend, John-Henry Williams, stored the rings there along with other belongings.
Frustrated that the possessions were taking up space, Nichols' father told John-Henry Williams he planned to sell them at a yard sale. While sorting through the items, he found the rings.
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