Originally created 05/27/98

Lopez grand in Braves' win



ATLANTA -- Perhaps Denny Neagle was aware of the last team to beat him at home.

Then again, it had been seven starts dating back to last September since he'd lost at Turner Field and he can't be expected to keep track of all the numbers, right?

It's enough for him to know that Tuesday night's 9-3 win over the Montreal Expos, the last team to deal him a loss here, boosted him into a tie among the National League's win leaders and improved his record to 16-1 at home since joining the Atlanta Braves.

"You never know what you're going to get with Montreal because their roster turns over every year," Neagle said. "That's why you've got to rely on scouting reports. They're young and full of energy and they go up hacking."

Neagle's arm and the bats of Andres Galarraga and Javy Lopez were more than enough to subdue the 18-32 Expos before 28,662 fans, the smallest crowd of the season. Despite suffering from a stomach ache before game, then fouling a pitch off his foot in the fifth inning, the left-hander went seven innings and allowed one run, while Galarraga drove in three runs with a pair of hits, including his 18th homer, and Lopez hit his second career grand slam in the seventh inning.

"I feel pretty much on pace with what I did last year," Neagle said. "Hopefully I can stay on a roll."

The win was the Braves' 20th this month, matching the Atlanta one-month record for victories with five games remaining, and kept the Braves perfect on Tuesdays (13-0) since last Aug. 19.

"I'll take 20 wins every month," Chipper Jones said. "We'll have a pretty good season if we win 20 games every month."

Neagle (7-1) has reeled off six straight wins since dropping a 5-3 decision at Pittsburgh on April 8. He benefited from another explosion from a lineup that's collected 29 hits and scored 18 runs in the last two games.

Besides Galarraga and Lopez, Jones reached base five times with a pair of hits and three walks and scored two runs, while Andruw Jones upped his average to a season-high .260 with a 3-for-4 performance and one RBI.

"Every day we come here with a feeling we're going to win," Galarraga said. "I'm really surprised when we lose. I don't want to sound cocky, but as soon as you see the lineup you get a good feeling we're going to win the game. That's special."

Montreal, which has become a farm team for baseball's richest clubs, headed into the game with a pitcher making his 12th major league start and five members of the lineup with less than two years of major league service.

Not surprisingly, the Expos ranked next-to-last in the league with a .239 batting average and .975 fielding percentage and 12th with a 4.49 ERA. By comparison, the Braves had the best fielding percentage in the majors (.989), the second-best ERA (3.19) and the third-best batting average (.285).

The contrast in payrolls is just as sharp. Montreal has a $9.5 million payroll, while Atlanta's is $59.5 million. More to the point, the Braves' highest-paid player, Greg Maddux, will be paid more ($9.6 million) this year than all the Expos combined.

Atlanta's lineup had six hitters with seven or more home runs. Montreal had two. Galarraga gave the Braves a 2-0 lead in the first inning with a two-out homer against Miguel Batista (1-2), then Chipper Jones followed a two-out walk to Keith Lockhart in the fifth with a run-scoring double, boosting his RBI total to 43.

Batista departed in the sixth and the bullpen provided no relief. Marc Valdes suffered through a four-hit, five-run seventh, highlighted by Lopez's slam, his 12th homer.

"The lineup is not waiting for me and they're not waiting for Chipper," Galarraga said. "Somebody does it every day."