SAN FRANCISCO - Since he returned to the starting rotation, Greg Maddux has had a profound effect on Atlanta's pitching staff and psyche.
This, mind you, from a pitcher who missed his opening-day assignment with a bad back, went on the disabled list for the first time in 15 years, and stayed off the treadmill for fear of aggravating his inflamed nerve.
Maddux is as comforting to the Braves as Warren Spahn once was and just as dominating of opponents, just ask the San Francisco Giants after losing, 6-1, to the future Hall of Famer and the Braves on Wednesday at Pac Bell Park.
"That was very badly needed," left fielder Chipper Jones said. "The guy never ceases to amaze me. Today was the first day we've seen him on top of his game for eight innings. Hopefully, we'll get 25 or 30 more starts like that out of him."
Atlanta's ace, pitching in the late afternoon shadows of San Francisco Bay, worked his 261st career win for a team that needed a lift. Maddux, who had lasted seven innings and wasn't involved in the decision in a 7-3 win over the Padres in his last start, had one strikeout and allowed just five hits. He threw 93 pitches in eight innings and gave up one unearned run.
"They kept hitting balls right at people and when that happens, you take it," said Maddux, who improved to 4-2. "Really, there's no secret. You try and keep the ball down and keep it in front of the outfielders."
Braves hitters, limited to five hits in Tuesday night's 2-0 loss, did their part against Giants starter Livan Hernandez and the bullpen, banging out 10 hits, including Vinny Castilla's home run in the second, his fifth of the season, which ended the Braves' drought at 12 shutout innings.
Castilla, whose batting average is 100 points higher on the road than at Turner Field, also singled home two runs in the third, less than 24 hours after his eight-game hitting streak ended the night before.
Jones, who had not knocked in a run in five games, and had one RBI in his past eight, singled home a run in the third, doubled in another in the fifth, and singled in the seventh.
"Any time you lose three in a row, you need somebody to pick you up," manager Bobby Cox said. "It was nice to see Vinny break out with some RBI and Chipper have three hits. We need to get some guys rolling a little bit."
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