ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Greg Maddux wore the expression of a little boy caught with a pilfered candy bar.
"It slipped," he said in response to a question of whether he purposely hit Jose Canseco in the ninth inning of Tuesday night's 8-2 win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. "I was just trying to come inside and it got away."
Yes, and the Iraqis were doing a little sightseeing when their tanks rolled into Kuwait.
Maddux's pitch, which annoyed Canseco and emptied both dugouts for a two-minute do-si-do along the first base line, was in response to Walt Weiss being nailed twice and Fernando Lunar once by Devil Ray pitchers. Canseco barked at Maddux, burly outfielder Bobby Bonilla rumbled from the dugout, and eventually Devil Rays manager Larry Rothschild was tossed for suggesting Maddux should take the rest of the evening off.
"(Canseco) is a big man," said Bonilla, who looked ready to match biceps with Tampa Bay's man-mountain. "I can't have him going after Maddux."
Order restored before a crowd of 31,354 at Tropicana Field, Maddux polished off his fourth complete game (career complete game No. 97), improving to 12-3 with a seven-hitter, while striking out six to boost his season strikeout total to 118, better than all but six pitchers in the major leagues.
"Typical Maddux performance," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He's like clockwork. He does the same thing every game."
The Braves, winners of five of six since the All-Star break, wrapped up interleague play with an 11-7 record, beating up two of the American League's weakest teams (taking 5 of 6 against Baltimore and Tampa Bay), while going 2-4 against the Yankees and Blue Jays. They head back to more familiar terrain tonight in the opener of a brief two-game set in Miami against the third-place Marlins.
There was simply too much Maddux for the Devil Rays to handle and more than enough production from a lineup that's been terrific since taking three days off. Four hitters, the Jones boys, Andruw and Chipper, Andres Galarraga and Reggie Sanders, knocked in two runs apiece and every regular with the exception of Brian Jordan either had a hit or scored a run.
Facing a lineup that had Greg Vaughn, Fred McGriff, Canseco and Vinny Castilla together for the first time since May, Maddux put on a pitching clinic. Following McGriff's first-inning sacrifice fly, he didn't allow another run until Steve Cox launched a 1 and 1 delivery into the right field stands in the sixth. By that time, he had a comfortable lead and was intent on throwing as many strikes as possible.
"Their lineup is a little intimidating," said Maddux, who lowered his earned run average to 3.27. "You just try to make the pitch and hope they don't hit it at you."
The Braves, who fell behind 2-0 Monday night on Vaughn's first-inning homer, returned the favor Tuesday. Chipper Jones followed Andruw Jones' double with a home run (No. 24) into the left field stands against Devil Rays starter Bryan Rekar, boosting the Braves' home run streak to five straight games.
Rekar (3-5), who was looking to win consecutive decisions for the first time since April 1999, was his own worst enemy in the second. With two out, he hit Weiss and Lunar, then Rafael Furcal loaded the bases with an infield hit and Andruw Jones delivered a two-run single to make it 4-1.
Rothschild got the bullpen busy in the fifth, but too late. Three straight singles, the last one by Galarraga with two down, sent two more runs home, then Wally Joyner's double and Sanders' second hit of the game boosted the lead to 8-1.
"The runs were nice," Maddux said. "We got some big two-out hits. They were one pitch away from getting out of two innings, but we scored six runs."
After Weiss and Lunar were hit, Maddux responded by nailing Felix Martinez. Then, reliever Tanyon Sturtze got Weiss in the eighth, and Maddux, oblivious to Canseco's glare, plunked him on the hip.
"That surprised me," Chipper Jones said. "That's a big dude. You're taking your life in your hands when you do that."
Said Canseco, "I was completely startled, to tell you the truth. I just said, `Don't do it again' and he just looked at me and basically apologized. If he did hit me on purpose, which he probably did, it was not called for on his part, it was called for by the manager."