MONTREAL - For an Atlanta Braves team four weeks away from reaching the playoffs for the 11th straight time, there can be no better sight than Andruw Jones swinging the bat with authority.
That was underscored again in Saturday night's 5-3 win over the Montreal Expos - Atlanta's second-straight win - in which Jones' home run broke a 3-all tie in the seventh inning, and sent the 8,528 fans at Olympic Stadium home wondering if today's game will be the last time they ever see the Braves.
Jones, who drove in 104 runs last year but hadn't knocked anyone home in his past 10 games, hit his 27th home run of the season on an 0-and-2 pitch from Expos loser Javier Vazquez. The center fielder, who has batted cleanup the past two games, had struck out in four of his previous 10 at-bats, and had just three hits in his previous 39 at-bats before banging a drive off the right field scoreboard.
"It's important for Andruw to get going," left fielder Chipper Jones said. "The more he gets going, the more pitches I see, and the more he adds to the middle of the lineup."
And just it has all season, the bullpen took on the night's challenge, taking over for beleaguered starter Jason Marquis in the sixth and delivering four scoreless innings. Chris Hammond, who pitched the sixth and seventh, was credited with the win, Mike Remlinger worked the eighth, and John Smoltz pitched a perfect ninth for his 48th save.
The win, the Braves' fifth in 11 games on this trip, lowered their magic number to 12.
"Obviously, I'm getting most of the notoriety, but the other guys are getting their share too," said Smoltz, who is nine saves shy of matching Bobby Thigpen's major-league record. "They've provided me with some luxury. I'm getting the opportunities because these guys are giving me the lead. It's a good feeling to have when you're going into the postseason."
Mark DeRosa, replacing leadoff man Rafael Furcal in a second-straight game, reached base three times and is now 9-for-27 (.333) on the trip. He singled in a run in the second and hit his second home run to make it 3-2 in the fourth.
Held to five hits through the first six innings by Vazquez, who was 0-5 with a 7.11 ERA in his past five starts, the Braves sprung to life in the seventh, when Andruw Jones went deep for the first time since Aug. 17. Vazquez kicked himself for leaving a fastball over the plate to Jones, who took two curves for strikes.
"You throw a high fastball to me, I'm going to hit it, especially if it's over the plate," Jones said. "To tell you the truth, I hit it with my head down and I didn't know where the ball was. I thought it was foul. We were laughing about it on the bench."
The Braves scored an extra run in the ninth against reliever Scott Stewart, Andruw Jones accepting a walk and scoring on Vinny Castilla's sacrifice fly.
The Expos closed to within four errors of New York's total with three miscues. Two errors came on the same play in the second, when first baseman Andres Galarraga's throw hit Castilla in the helmet, allowing Darren Bragg to score the game's first run, and in the ensuing scramble, third baseman Jose Macias' errant toss sent Marquis to second. DeRosa followed with a run-scoring single to make it 2-0.
Marquis, who took a line drive off his left calf in his Aug. 22 start, began to ache when Vazquez lined a two-out RBI single into center field in the second. Marquis who has fallen behind Damian Moss in the rotation and would move to the bullpen if the postseason started tomorrow, cringed again when Galarraga tied the game at 2 by following Vladimir Guerrero's double to the gap in left-center with a single through the middle.
DeRosa restored the lead with his second home run of the season in the fourth, driving Vazquez's 1-and-0 offering into the left field seats.
Galarraga opened the home half of the sixth with a game-tying home run, launching Marquis' first pitch over the right field wall. Macias then lined a single to left, bringing manager Bobby Cox out of the dugout. He summoned Hammond, who restored order by coaxing an infield out from Orlando Cabrera, then induced Brian Schneider to roll into an inning-ending double play.
"As good as we've done so far, every game about the fifth inning we start getting nervous," said Hammond, who is 7-2 with a 1.07 ERA. "When we get a lead, it's our turn to pitch."
Reach Bill Zack at email@example.com.
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