Originally created 07/17/04

Braves' notebook

ATLANTA - The Atlanta Braves' grip on first place in the National League East might prove fleeting.

But for one day at least, Atlanta relished being on top of a division it has dominated for more than a decade.

The Braves moved into the division lead with Thursday night's victory over the Montreal Expos, their 14th win in 18 games.

They came into Friday night's game at Turner Field tied for first with the Philadelphia Phillies. The Florida Marlins and New York Mets started the night a game back.

"I don't want to use the word shock, but it's rewarding considering all we've been through this season," pitcher John Smoltz said. "With all the injuries and as bad as we played, we're still right there with them."

Smoltz said one prolonged winning streak during the second half of the season could be enough to run away with the division.

And while neither Smoltz nor his teammates would say so, sly smiles and knowing looks betrayed their feelings that they consider themselves the favorites.

"I don't know how good I feel or they feel about" being in first place, manager Bobby Cox said, "but we enjoy winning. That's the best feeling there is."

THE WRIGHT STUFF: Pitcher Jaret Wright continued his resurgence Thursday, throwing seven shutout innings to post his career-best fifth consecutive victory.

As impressive as the Wright's performance was, his manager came away disappointed - not with Wright, but with himself.

Cox said he left Wright in too long. The right-hander's arm tightened up during a long fifth inning in which the Braves scored four runs.

"I should have gotten our bullpen going earlier," Cox said. "He hasn't been in a starting rotation for years."

PLAYING HURT: Catcher Johnny Estrada started Friday's game after being hit by a pitch by Expos pitcher T.J. Tucker in the the sixth inning.

Estrada sported a purple bruise Friday but shrugged off the injury. The bruise is on his catching hand and he didn't expect it to hamper his play.

"Not unless Alfonseca comes in with his power sinker," Estrada said, poking fun at reliever Antonio Alfonseca.


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