MILWAUKEE - After two years in Colorado, pitcher Mike Hampton's career was pretty much left for dead.
However, the 30-year-old left-hander decided he wasn't ready to call it quits, and the Braves decided to gamble $48.5 million that his vaunted sinker wasn't just a bittersweet memory.
Those thoughts were erased a bit more Thursday, as Hampton threw his first complete game in more than two years, a 7-1 victory over Milwaukee before 31,097 fans at Miller Park.
"It's a good feeling to know you're going to help the team instead of hurt it," Hampton said. "All the work that (pitching coach Leo Mazzone) and I have put in is starting to pay off."
Hampton decided last month to focus on his sinker's movement and back off the velocity. The result has been increased life in a pitch that manager Bobby Cox calls "the best sinker in the game."
"I said a couple of weeks ago that if the season started then, he'd win 20 games with the way he was throwing," Cox said. "I thought he was in total command today with that sinker. It looked like he was going to throw a no-hitter for a while."
Hampton (9-5) threw 105 pitches and did not allow a hit until former Brave Eddie Perez sent a single through the right side in the fifth. Hampton got 20 outs by ground ball or strikeout but lost a shutout when Brady Clark and Keith Ginter hit back-to-back doubles in the seventh.
Vinny Castilla, meanwhile, continued his resurgence at the plate, tripling and hitting his 18th home run for three RBI in his first two at-bats. Hampton helped his own cause, doubling in a pair of runs.
After losing the opening game of the series 4-3, the Braves outscored the Brewers 17-3 in winning the last two games.
"It's nice when only half your lineup hits well and you still put up that many runs," second baseman Marcus Giles said.
A series that already had featured eight home runs in the first two games yielded just one more, that coming in the fourth when Castilla went deep over the center field wall, a drive estimated at 435 feet.
Milwaukee's Scott Podsednik had a rough day in center. He made a diving attempt at Castilla's sinking liner in the second and the ball went under his glove and rolled to the wall for a two-run triple. In the fifth, he slipped while chasing Hampton's liner and the ball escaped him for a two-run double, climaxing a four-run rally to make it 7-0.
That was more than enough for Hampton, who allowed just five hits and faced six batters over the minimum.
"I relied a lot on my sinker like in the past," said Hampton, who has won six in a row. "I've felt more and more confident with it. I'm just trying to get back to where I was before."
Reach Bill Zack at email@example.com.
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