Originally created 05/28/98

Braves blank Expos



ATLANTA -- It's not automatic, not by any means, but the Atlanta Braves make it appear that way.

The wins seem to arrive nightly like something off a factory assembly line, a grand slam one night, a shutout the next, no two games alike except in the score at the end of the evening.

A club that's won 73 percent of its games during the first two months of the season is starting to draw comparisons to the best teams in club history.

A May to remember continued along its merry way Wednesday night as Greg Maddux joined the seven-win club and Ryan Klesko rejoined the lineup just in time to deliver a run as the Braves took a 2-0 victory over the Montreal Expos before 32,834 fans at Turner Field.

"Every game is a fresh game," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "I feel better going home each night and driving to the park, that's how I know we're on a roll."

The win, the Braves' 21st in 26 games this month, set an Atlanta record for wins in a month. With four games remaining, the team has no chance to equal the franchise record of 26 wins set by the `Miracle Braves' in September 1914.

This victory came at the expense of Expos rookie Javier Vazquez, who headed into his 11th major league start with a 1-5 record and 6.92 ERA. He gave the Braves all they could handle, limiting them to only two hits, both by Maddux, and one run in seven innings.

Vazquez (1-6) was gone in the eighth and backup catcher Eddie Perez took advantage of reliever Mike Maddux after receiving a scouting report from Greg Maddux on his brother.

"Greg told me what he throws," Perez said. "He said to wait for his sinker."

Perez did and sent his third homer deep into the left field stands to give the Braves an insurance run.

"He's my brother and I love him and I want him to do well, but we want to win," Greg Maddux said. "I was glad that Eddie hit a homer and I was sad that my brother gave one up. It was a big run. It ended up making a big difference in the game."

Maddux (7-2) scattered six hits, struck out six and left the game after yielding a one-out double to Brad Fullmer in the ninth. With closer Mark Wohlers still rusty after a three-week layoff, Kerry Ligtenberg came on and coaxed a double-play grounder from Robert Perez to end the game and collect his seventh save.

Maddux, who hasn't lost since dropping a 7-6 decision to the Rockies on April 26 to even his record at 2-2, worked with his usual efficiency. He yielded a pair of hits in the second, then two more over the next two innings and nothing more until the eighth.

Leading 1-0 in the eighth, he gave up a leadoff double to Shane Andrews and after Andrews was bunted to third, he struck out F.P. Santangelo and forced a grounder from Vladimir Guerrero to end the threat.

"Maddux told someone on the bench before the game that it would take two runs to win the game and he's never wrong," Cox said.

The Expos, who entered the game with a team batting average of .240, advanced a runner into scoring position in the second and again in the third, but were missing a clutch hit. Following Rondell White's leadoff single in the fourth, Maddux retired the next 12 hitters, four on strikes.

While Maddux was displaying Cy Young form, Vazquez matched him pitch-for-pitch. In fact, judging simply by the numbers, the rookie right-hander was a little bit better than the four-time Cy Young winner.

Making his first-ever start against the Braves, Vazquez roared through the lineup and the only trouble he encountered was with Maddux.

Maddux bounced a single over Andrews' head in the third inning and tried to stretch it into a double. He slid around Santangelo's tag and appeared to be safe, but umpire Wally Bell called him out.

Maddux took no chances in the sixth. He slammed a two-out double into the left field corner, but was stranded on second when Walt Weiss remained hitless in his eighth straight at-bat with a fly ball.

Keith Lockhart became the first Brave other than Maddux to reach base when he drew a leadoff walk in the seventh. When Vazquez followed with another walk to Chipper Jones, Montreal's bullpen got ready.

The 21-year-old forced a weak grounder from Andres Galarraga, allowing the runners to advance, then Ryan Klesko sent a line drive at right fielder Guerrero. Lockhart scrambled back to third, tagged up and barely beat Guerrero's throw to the plate to give the Braves a 1-0 lead.

That was enough for a team that's piled up more wins in the first two months than any club in baseball.

"It's weird," Jones said, "because no one in here thinks we're on a roll. We're winning every four out of five games and that one loss thrown in there is kind of good for us because it's kept us hungry. Everybody is waiting for the bubble to burst, but we're not worrying about it. I think everybody in here thinks we can play a little bit better."