PHILADELPHIA - The Atlanta Braves have won more games than any team in baseball, but at no time have they looked like a lock to unseat the Arizona Diamondbacks or halt the New York Yankees' rush to immortality.
All the Braves do is win.
Even as another starter failed to last six innings Saturday afternoon, the Braves offered testament to their own resilience with a 4-3 win over the Philadelphia Phillies before 23,570 fans in Veterans Stadium.
"I liken us to that Yankees team in '98," left fielder Chipper Jones said. "They didn't have anybody hit 30 homers or bat .350. They just always seemed to find a way to win every night and it was always a different guy.
"This team has the confidence that somebody will step up. In years past we used to scuffle for six hits per game. Now we have eight hits by the fourth inning. It's fun when you do that."
But two more hits and two RBI from a sizzling Gary Sheffield, who has reached base in 46 straight games, didn't prevent the Phillies from giving Braves manager Bobby Cox a Maalox moment in the ninth. With runners on first and second and two out, John Smoltz induced Travis Lee to tap to the right side. It was an easy play for second baseman Mark DeRosa, but first baseman Julio Franco ranged over and gloved the ball, then made an off-balance and low throw to Smoltz to end the game. The save was Smoltz's 22nd consecutive save, an Atlanta record.
"Julio is aggressive," Smoltz said. "When he fielded it, I didn't think we had a chance. It caught me off-guard."
Said Cox: "I had my eyes shut. I don't know if (Julio) made a good throw or not."
Smoltz recording a save is a recurring theme this season. He leads the majors with 36 saves and is three shy of Mark Wohlers' franchise record.
The Braves, who were 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position in Friday night's 4-1 win, had eight hits, including a single and a double from Sheffield, who's batting .371 this month, and Andruw Jones' two-run single.
Atlanta scored a run in the first inning on Franco's single, a wild pitch, and Sheffield's single to left, then scored three times in the third, an inning that started with singles by Rafael Furcal and Franco, and Sheffield's double.
Andruw Jones' bases-loaded single came after Terry Adams intentionally walked Chipper Jones in hopes of avoiding more trouble. That worked last week in Montreal, when Bartolo Colon walked Sheffield to face the two Joneses, who accommodated the Expos' righthander by tapping into a pair of infield outs.
It didn't work this time. Jones smoked a pitch off third baseman Scott Rolen's glove that ricocheted into center field allowing Sheffield and Furcal to score to make it 4-0.
"The thing is, with this lineup, I don't have to do it every night," said Sheffield, who has raised his average from .262 on July 2 to .288. "If I don't do it, then Chipper does, or Andruw does, or Vinny (Castilla) does. It's a beautiful sight."
Andruw Jones also burned the Phillies with a diving catch of Marlon Anderson's line drive into the left-center field gap leading the home half of the third. Jones took away a double, and the crowd, notorious for booing Santa Claus, responded with an ovation.
"Without Andruw in center field today, we probably lose 4-3 or 5-3," Cox said. "(That catch) was like the one in Montreal. I said, 'no way', and he did it again."
The Braves, who have fewer complete games than any National League team except the Reds, Astros, Phillies, and Rockies, received a solid, albeit short, outing from Jason Marquis.
The 23-year-old, who gave up three home runs in his last start to raise his season total to 14, served up Mike Lieberthal's deep home run in the fifth, then allowed Travis Lee's single to open the sixth, and a one-out single to Pat Burrell. Cox was quick with a hook, summoning Kevin Gryboski to face Jeremy Giambi, who singled to left to make it 4-2. Lieberthal then drove in Burrell with an infield roller. With runners on second and third, reliever Chris Hammond coaxed a tapper to short from Jimmy Rollins to end the inning.
"This team resembles the Yankees," Sheffield said. "They're a good example for us. They have one or two guys with 30 homers, and that's it. We can match any team's offense, and beat you in different ways."
Reach Bill Zack at email@example.com.
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