MIAMI -- Eying the storm clouds gathered over Pro Player Stadium Thursday afternoon, Bobby Cox kept his fingers crossed that batting practice wouldn't be washed out.
Of the eight players he wrote into the lineup, only three had swung a bat during the last three days and he figured the lumber might feel unfamiliar to everyone else.
He needn't have worried. Two All-Stars was more than enough to handle the Florida Marlins.
After taking three days to catch their breaths and savor their Denver experience, Chipper Jones and Javy Lopez combined to drive in five runs Thursday night and the Atlanta Braves resumed their march toward 100 wins with their ninth straight victory, a 6-4 bashing of the Marlins in front of 25,535 fans.
"Most guys like the three days off," Jones said. "They come back refreshed. The guys who went out (to Denver) are kind of still in the swing of things. I'd rather stay in the swing of things than take three days off."
The rest certainly benefited John Smoltz. He used the eight days between starts to gather his strength and refocus his energy. Using a fastball that was consistently in the 94-95 m.p.h. range, he struck out four of the first eight hitters he faced and allowed only two runners to advance past first base in five innings.
Smoltz, who improved his career record against Florida to 6-2, watched his shutout disappear in the sixth. Todd Zeile opened with a single and two outs later Gregg Zaun sliced a hit into left field to score him. Zaun advanced to second on Danny Bautista's weak throw and scored on Craig Counsell's single, trimming the lead to 6-2.
Smoltz (6-2) departed after making 103 pitches in six innings and the bullpen helped make the game even closer. Dennis Martinez came on in the eighth and got just one out, while giving up three hits and a pair of runs. Two more relievers -- John Rocker and Russ Springer -- were needed to get the final two outs of the inning, then Kerry Ligtenberg worked a perfect ninth inning for his 10th save.
"It's the hardest I've thrown all year," said Smoltz, who struck out eight. "With seven days off, I didn't know how I'd come out. The big thing was having three days off to relax. It's a grind to be thinking about your body all the time. It was coming out easy. I was surprising myself."
At this point last season the Braves were in a pennant race. After 88 games, the Marlins were 51-37 and trailing the Braves by 5 12 games. What a difference a year makes. With most of their world championship team playing elsewhere, Thursday's loss gave the Marlins a 32-56 record and plunged them 27 12 games out of first place.
The Braves picked on Livan Hernandez (7-5), who beat them twice in last October's NLCS, including a 15-strikeout performance in Game 5. The right-hander was facing a lineup missing Walt Weiss, Ryan Klesko and Andruw Jones. Weiss and Klesko had legitimate reasons for missing the game. Jones, whose flight from Curacao was canceled Thursday morning, angered Cox by not arriving until 10 minutes before the start of the game.
Jones made a pinch hitting appearance in the ninth and struck out.
After hitting just one homer in their last three games before the break, the Braves used the long ball to score all their runs against the Marlins. Chipper Jones hit a two-run homer in the first inning, then Gerald Williams hit a solo homer in the fifth.
In the sixth, Jones doubled, Andres Galarraga singled and Lopez unloaded his 20th homer into the upper deck in left field, a 435-foot blast that boosted the lead to 6-0.
"That's a big relief, coming out of a slump with a three-run homer," Lopez said. "Before that I was 0-for-6 or 0-for-7. The reason I was in a slump is because I wanted to get to the All-Star game with 20 homers. I was swinging at bad pitches and swinging for the fences. I know you can't try and hit home runs, but sometimes you still want to try."
The three homers upped Atlanta's season total to 123, a pace that would easily eclipse the 1966 franchise record of 207. So it goes for a club that has matched its best streak since taking nine straight leading into the 1995 All-Star break and whose starters are 7-0 during that stretch.
"It's a nice way to start the second half," Cox said. "That's what I told the guys when they came in tonight. They played a great ballgame."
Atlanta -- 2 0 0 0 1 3 0 0 0 -- 6 7 1
Florida -- 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 2 0 -- 4 11 0
E -- GerWilliams (3). LOB -- Atlanta 4, Florida 9. 2B -- ChJones (16), GerWilliams (9), Zeile (16). 3B -- DLee (1). HR -- JLopez (20) off LHernandez; GerWilliams (3) off LHernandez; ChJones (22) off LHernandez. RBIs -- ChJones 2 (71), JLopez 3 (64), GerWilliams (21), DLee (38), Zaun 2 (17), Counsell (31). CS -- Renteria (15). S -- OGuillen.
Runners left in scoring position -- Atlanta 2 (Galarraga, Smoltz); Florida 4 (Wehner, Floyd 2, RJackson).
Runners moved up -- Lockhart, Floyd 2.
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