CHICAGO - This one, even by Wrigley Field standards, was off the charts.
On a Friday afternoon when Cubs ace Kerry Wood struck out six batters in six innings but saw his bullpen unable to protect a one-run advantage, the Braves celebrated a check-the-wind, hold-your-breath, come-from-behind win, a 3-2 victory that wasn't over until closer John Smoltz completed a three-strikeout ninth inning by whiffing pinch-hitter Matt Stairs.
"I think that's the cheapest home run of my career," said center fielder Andruw Jones, referring to his wind-blown fly in the ninth that carried into the first row of the left-field seats and won the game. "All day I was missing those fastballs, popping them up. Fortunately, I got lucky, and the wind blew it out."
The Braves, who lost two of three to the Cubs last weekend in Atlanta, had won just 10 of 28 games against them since the start of the 1998 season. The win, their third in four games on this two-city tour, boosted their road record to 42-26, the league's best.
The Braves trailed, 2-0, when Paul Bako walked with one out in the fifth and scored on Marcus Giles' two-out single. They were behind, 2-1, when Jones' single opened the seventh against Wood, and pinch-hitter Javy Lopez delivered a game-tying single against reliever David Weathers.
Mike Remlinger loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh, but escaped when first baseman Julio Franco won a battle with a fan and caught pinch-hitter Joe Girardi's pop-up to end the inning.
The win went to Steve Karsay (3-3), who pitched a three-up, three-down eighth.
"That was a good win," said Smoltz, who has reeled off six straight saves. "That was probably the best-pitched game in those conditions I've ever seen. I didn't want to give anyone a chance to go opposite field or get one up in the air."
Wood was given an early dismissal by Cubs manager Don Baylor, who was sensitive to the shoulder tendinitis that sidelined him for a month. Jones' single in the seventh spelled the end of his afternoon, and he departed having thrown 66 pitches, 45 for strikes.
"With the hitters on both sides, you expect there to be five home runs today," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "The pitching was amazing. Just two pop-ups, with the wind blowing out."
Greg Maddux, excused after allowing two hits and two walks in six innings, failed in a third bid for his 18th win. His only mistakes were a one-out walk to Sammy Sosa in the fourth, followed by a 1-and-1 fastball that Fred McGriff launched onto Waveland Avenue to make it 2-0.
"If they get it in the air, it's going to go," said Maddux, who has won eight of 11 decisions against his former club. "You know it going into the game. But at least when you throw into the wind, your stuff is a little better."
With the exception of McGriff, Maddux kept the Cubs beating his pitches into Wrigley's dense turf. Of the 17 outs he got, 13 came by ground balls, and he had two strikeouts.
"This is a good place to throw ground balls," Maddux said. "It's really hard to get one through the infield."
Jones didn't try. Expecting the first pitch from reliever Kyle Farnsworth (4-4) to be a fastball, he got one and popped it up. Throwing his bat aside in frustration, he headed toward first with his head down.
"I was running because I knew I missed it," said Jones, who won Tuesday's game against the Expos with a ninth-inning home run. "I got a cheap home run. I'll take anything I can get right now. We need stuff like that."
"Andruw was on a lot of pitches today," Cox said. "I thought he was going to go up and hit the longest home run I've seen this year, and he hit the shortest."
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