Originally created 05/06/02

Braves top Cardinals, 4-2



ST. LOUIS - The trademark bat waggle is still part of his repertoire. But it's hard to swagger when you're hitting .207.

However, even a struggling Gary Sheffield can still have a galvanizing effect on the Braves, who completed a six-game tour Sunday afternoon by shutting down the St. Louis Cardinals, 4-2, before a crowd of 39,509 fans at Busch Stadium.

The Braves, who return home for a six-game homestand against Los Angeles and San Diego after a 4-2 trip, are showing signs of life at the plate that's been noticeably absent through the first five weeks of the season.

Sheffield, made the No. 3 hitter by manager Bobby Cox, had three hits and singled home a run in the seventh inning, giving him his first RBI since April 13.

"It's the best I've felt since opening day," said Sheffield, who tweaked his sore wrist during batting practice and was uncertain whether he could play. "It doesn't hurt so bad when you win."

Greg Maddux showed he's closer to the vintage Maddux at his Cy Young Award-winning best, than the hurting Maddux who had won once in his last four outings and left a start with a twinge in his back.

Maddux found the most effective way of dealing with the medical issue was to pitch six innings, run the bases, and take a tumble on the mound.

"I would have liked to have felt a little better later in the game," said Maddux, who ran out of steam after throwing 65 pitches, 47 for strikes. "But I kept the ball down a little better and when you do that, you can keep your pitch count down."

Questions about the condition of Maddux's back have lingered since he came off the disabled list last month. He would have you believe he's OK, even after an outing in which he gave up more runs (10) than he ever has in his career, 10 days ago against the Diamondbacks. He insists he's recovered from an inflamed nerve and trainers say they are offering only minimal treatment, but with an earned run average (4.37) that's almost two runs higher than his career ERA, suspicions about his health won't go away.

"It's getting better," said Maddux, who could have been speaking of his back or his pitching.

John Smoltz took over for Tim Spooneybarger in the eighth and got three outs, then worked an untidy ninth, leaving the tying run on second by coaxing a comebacker from Placido Polanco to end the game.

"Every time I come in there's going to be some anxious moments," said Smoltz, who picked up his 11th save.

The Braves' surging offense, limited to three runs or fewer in its last seven games, had 12 hits, its most since April 26.

Andruw Jones, who came into the game with just three hits in 18 at-bats on the trip, doubled and homered, and scored two runs. Even a pair of two struggling hitters - Vinny Castilla and Wes Helms - had two singles and knocked in a run.

"We're capable of scoring a lot of runs," Sheffield said.

Jones opened the second inning by crushing Cardinals starter Darryl Kile's first pitch against the upper deck facade in left field, a shot estimated at 453 feet, the fourth-longest home run by an opposing player in Busch Stadium history.

Sheffield, whose last multi-hit game was April 13, sent a two-out double to right-center in the third. Chipper Jones, the new cleanup hitter, followed with a single off sprawling first baseman Tino Martinez's glove to make it 2-0.

"I'm not smart enough to think of (hitting him No. 3) before now," Cox said. "But Gary is going to hit if he's No. 8 or leadoff, he's going to hit .300."

The Braves broke through the three-run barrier in the sixth. Andruw Jones turned on a Kile pitch and sent it past third baseman Polanco for a double, then Wes Helms' sacrifice fly to the warning track in left sent in Jones.

In the seventh, Marcus Giles doubled against reliever Mike Crudale, and Sheffield's line single to center gave the Braves an extra run.

"This was a good win for us," Maddux said. "We went from having an all right trip to a pretty good trip. "It makes a big difference. It's always nice to win on get-away day, especially before an off-day."

Reach Bill Zack at bzack30143@aol.com.