Originally created 06/19/00

Braves' bats help deliver needed win



PHILADELPHIA -- As thunder muttered and storm clouds gathered Sunday afternoon, a group of hitters who had been mumbling to themselves suddenly discovered a ray of sunshine.

No need for Louisville Slugger to launch an investigation. The Braves' bats work, after all.

Making use of their lumber for the first time in four days, the Braves backed up fifth starter John Burkett's solid performance with four late runs, ending a three-game skid by tripping the Phillies 5-3 before 25,359 at Veterans Stadium.

"It was big, real big," Chipper Jones said. "A win like today can take the monkey off people's backs. We've been pressing, not being able to get big hits. Hopefully the offense will come back now."

Mother Nature did more than mutter in the bottom of the eighth. A thunder and lightning display caused right fielder Brian Jordan to scurry for the dugout and his teammates followed, forcing the umpires to halt play. A torrential downpour following, delaying the game for 35 minutes.

"When that loud boom came, I was gone," Jordan said. "I said, see ya. Why take a chance? Don't mess with nature."

As usual, Burkett had trouble in the first inning, Pat Burrell's run-scoring double sending Bobby Abreu home for a 1-0 lead. Burkett's earned run average in the first this season is 11.00. For all other innings, it's 3.08.

But that was all the Phils got off Burkett. He went six innings, allowing four hits, and matched his season-high with seven strikeouts.

"I'm trying to get rid of that (first-inning trouble)," said Burkett, who improved to 5-3. "I've never had that problem before. But I'll take giving up one in the first and that's all through six."

Kerry Ligtenberg and Mike Remlinger got five outs, then John Rocker went four up, four down, three on strikes, to collect his 11th save, his first since May 18.

"I threw one fastball up today and I was trying to," said Rocker, who missed the strike zone with all six of his pitches in last Wednesday's game in Pittsburgh. "I'd like to keep it that way."

For much of the game, this was the state of the Braves' offense: Phils starter Robert Person was so embarrassed by giving up a fourth-inning run, he pulled himself out of the game.

OK, just kidding, but you get the point. The hitters wasted terrific pitching performances by Kevin Millwood and Tom Glavine the past three days and didn't show a spark Sunday until the Phils bullpen took over following Person's exit after five.

In the past four days, the hitters have batted .200, .172 with men in scoring position, and stranded 36 runners.

A drought that started with Kris Benson's shutout in Pittsburgh Thursday night had taken hold and festered. The Braves' version of a rally was a single, two walks and a double-play ball for a run, which is what occurred in the fourth, Bobby Bonilla's roller spoiling a bases-loaded, no-out opportunity.

That was just the start of a frustrating afternoon for the Braves, who were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position before Andruw Jones' single off third baseman Kevin Jordan's glove in the seventh delivered Jordan with the tie-breaking run.

Chipper Jones followed with another run-scoring single against reliever Mark Holzemer, extending his hitting streak to 16 games, two shy of his career high. Keith Lockhart's RBI double in the eighth and another run-scoring single by Andruw Jones, who has nine RBI in the seven games on this trip, gave the Braves a pair of insurance runs.

"It was good to put a full game together -- good pitching, good defense and timely hitting," Chipper Jones said.

Reach Bill Zack at bzack30143@aol.com