ATLANTA - Atlanta left fielder Chipper Jones said that without Gary Sheffield, the Braves lacked big-inning potential.
Judging by the lineup's response to the right fielder's return, Jones should consider his concerns addressed.
The Braves batted through the order in the second inning Friday night, scoring four runs before beleaguered Montreal Expos starter Masato Yoshii could say "sayonara" to win 5-0 before a Turner Field crowd of 24,361 fans relieved to see the offense start humming again after two weeks of futility.
With the Philadelphia Phillies loss to the New York Mets, the Braves' magic number for clinching the division fell to four.
The Braves profited from the return of Sheffield, who celebrated his first appearance in 10 games with a run-scoring single that opened the Braves' scoring in the first inning. It's his first RBI since Aug. 24, three days before he put himself out of action for nine games by spraining his left thumb.
"He's Gary Sheffield," said Darren Bragg, who hit .324 as Sheffield's stand-in. "He definitely carries a big bat and he can definitely carry a team. It's nice when he's in there."
Kevin Millwood, who has won seven in a row, continued his march toward his first 20-win season. The 27-year-old right-hander spun his second career shutout, allowing just three singles, and one walk. He also contributed two hits, knocked in two runs, and now has a career-high 10 RBI.
"I don't really plan to go nine innings this time of year," said Millwood, who improved to 16-6 and lowered his ERA to 3.06. "But I didn't have many pitches and I felt good, so I decided to give it a shot."
The Expos' only chance to score came in the sixth, when pinch hitter Matt Cepicky opened with a single and Vladimir Guerrero lined a two-out single to right. But second baseman Marcus Giles knocked down Andres Galarraga's smash and ended the threat by throwing out the former Brave.
The Braves have made a habit this season of dealing Millwood a win. Millwood, who has beaten the Expos twice in five days and won 14 of his past 15 decisions, took control of an Expos lineup that was missing Rookie of the Year candidate Brad Wilkerson.
Leadoff hitter Endy Chavezishitting .175. Cleanup hitter Galarraga entered the game with nine home runs, while Troy O'Leary, who played seven years in Boston but was released by Tampa Bay during spring training, batted fifth and has just three home runs.
Millwood set down the final 10 batters and finished with five strikeouts. It was his first shutout since he blanked the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 14, 1998.
"I don't think any of my pitches was exceptional, but I thought everything was OK," said Millwood, who threw 98 pitches - 67 for strikes.
"I tried to give it everything I've got in the tank for as long as I could."
The Braves fell over themselves in their haste to get at Yoshii, who has now lost twice to the division leaders in five days.
By the second inning, when the Braves knocked out Yoshii, six Brave starters had a hit and five scored - one run in the first and four runs in the second.
That was ample support for Millwood, who had received more than four runs just four times in his past 19 starts.
Giles had two doubles and an RBI. Henry Blanco had a pair of singles and an RBI, and Julio Franco added two hits and one run.
"I don't know if guys were more comfortable, but there was definitely a little different feeling with (Sheffield) hitting in the three hole," Millwood said.
Reach Bill Zack at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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