ATLANTA -- Fifty-one games into the season, Curtis Pride finally made an impact on the National League.
More to the point, he made an impact on Sandy Martinez and the Chicago Cubs.
Making like an NFL linebacker Monday night, Pride ran over Martinez at the plate, touching off a bench-clearing melee in the fifth inning, and drove in a pair of runs in his first start since April 19, leading the Braves to a 9-5 victory and a series win over the Cubs before a crowd of 33,704 fans at Turner Field.
"I made a good, hard, clean play," Pride said. "He wasn't too happy when I hit him hard. After he threw a punch I had to go after him. It was my first start in awhile and I couldn't even stay in the whole game."
Pride, who emerged from the scrap with a deep bruise on his right arm, was one of three Braves with a pair of RBI as the lineup matched its season-high with 18 hits and reached season-highs with 10 extra-base hits, eight doubles and 31 total bases.
Keith Lockhart equaled his career-high with four hits, including three doubles, Andruw Jones matched his career-best with four hits, Michael Tucker had a pair of hits and scored three runs and Javy Lopez had three hits, including his 11th homer, his first since May 10.
Afterward, the main topic of conversation in the clubhouse was the fight and Martinez's role as the instigator.
"I think (Martinez) was wrong," said pitcher Kevin Millwood, who found himself at the bottom of the pile attempting to pull players off Pride. "Curtis was playing good, hard baseball and the guy took exception to it. If you don't want to get run over, then don't block the plate."
Said Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, "It was senseless, it should never have happened. There's no reason to push Curtis or hit him. Everybody knows he's not going to start a fight. He's just a hard player."
Pride, who had 45 at-bats and no RBI entering the game, had two hits and a sacrifice fly and scored a run before being ejected for fighting.
Martinez claimed he didn't want to fight, that he was only trying to defend himself.
"I wasn't trying to fight," he said. "(Pride) was on top of my head and I wanted to get him off. I pushed him off of me and he came at me like he wanted to fight."
The melee began when Pride, attempting to score on Andruw Jones' two-out double, bowled over Martinez. When the dust cleared, the catcher retaliated with a shove and a punch, Pride countered with a swing and both dugouts emptied of players. During the fight Cubs right fielder Sammy Sosa tried to kick Pride twice, but was pulled away by other players.
"He tried to kick me. I was surprised," Pride said. "People held him back."
When the two combatants were separated and order was restored, they were ejected, a decision the Cubs wholeheartedly endorsed considering the damage Pride had already wrought.
"The fight got everybody's blood pressure up a little bit," Chipper Jones said.
If the Cubs could have found a way to eject Millwood too, they would have done it. The right-hander continued to carve himself a place in baseball's best rotation, working seven innings and yielding five hits and a pair of runs to tie for the league lead with his seventh win.
One of those runs was Sosa's 10th homer in the fourth, the first of two in the game. He also connected for a three-run shot against reliever Mike Cather in the eighth, making things uncomfortably close until Andres Galarraga greeted reliever Marc Pisciotta with a two-run double in the bottom of the inning.
Millwood, 10-1 with a 3.06 ERA in 14 starts since last Aug. 30, displayed a live fastball and a hard slider. He also showed staying power after taking Sosa's line drive off his right leg in the sixth, as well as punching power during the scrap with Martinez. He got in two blows against the catcher before being pulled away by Cubs first baseman Mark Grace.
"Obviously, no one wants to be at the bottom of a pile, but I'm not going to stand there and let them try and hurt Curtis," Millwood said. "If that means being on the bottom of the pile, then so be it."
Cubs starter Kevin Tapani (6-3) was coming off a three-hit shutout of the Dodgers, but he lasted only 5 2/3 innings and was charged with 11 hits and five runs as his earned run average ballooned to 4.09.
The Braves, who close out the homestand with three games against the fourth-place Expos starting tonight, have won 13 of 16 games and 31 of 39 since April 14. Their lead stands at 8 1/2 games nearly one-third of the way through the season.
The fight may be over in the National League East, but don't tell Pride and the Braves.