posted on Aug, 20 2004 @ 08:42 AM
Johnny Estrada's fourth hit of the game was a slow roller that just squeezed through the infield.
It still was a big hit.
Estrada homered, drove in three runs and started Atlanta's go-ahead rally in the ninth inning, and the Braves beat Eric Gagne and the Los Angeles
Dodgers 6-5 Thursday night.
Atlanta manager Bobby Cox is getting used to Estrada coming up with key hits.
"If you look at Johnny's numbers -- his on-base percentage, his batting average, his runs knocked in. I think he still leads the big leagues with
runners in scoring position," Cox said.
"He's having a fantastic year, and he's a great catcher.
Estrada is batting .330, including .390 (39-for-100) with runners in scoring position, and has 63 RBI.
In a matchup of division leaders, the Dodgers had tied it 5-5 on consecutive home runs by Adrian Beltre and Shawn Green, the second solo homer of the
night for each.
Gagne gave up a one-out RBI single to pinch-hitter Adam LaRoche in the ninth to lose for the second time in as many nights.
"This would have been a great playoff game," said the Braves' John Smoltz, who pitched a perfect ninth for his 32nd save in 34 chances and
franchise-record 142nd of his career.
"The crowd was into it and they know what's at stake for their city, because it's been a while. We beat a great one tonight -- Gagne in the ninth."
Gagne (4-3) gave up Estrada's leadoff single, with the ball rolling just under the glove of diving second baseman Alex Cora.
Nick Green ran for Estrada and moved to second on Eli Marrero's sacrifice bunt. LaRoche pinch-hit for Chris Reitsma and Green advanced on a passed
ball by Brent Mayne before LaRoche hit a broken-bat single through the right side of the drawn-in infield.
Gagne picked up the barrel of the broken bat and angrily hurled it off the field.
"It's so frustrating. We're playing so well and hitting the ball so well," said Gagne, honored in a pregame ceremony for his major league-record
streak of 84 consecutive saves that ended earlier this season.
"We should have won tonight, should have won last night," he said. "The way we came back, it's just frustrating to give up a run like that. It's not
fun. I'll just have to come back and pitch better the next time."
A night earlier, the Dodgers' closer had blown just his second save in his last 100 chances, giving up four runs in the ninth and taking the loss in a
6-4 defeat by Florida.
Asked about Gagne, Los Angeles manager Jim Tracy said, "There's nothing wrong with Eric Gagne. He's human."
Reitsma (6-3) got the win despite giving up the two homers in the eighth.
Shortstop Rafael Furcal made a spectacular diving stab of Izturis' grounder up the middle and got a forceout to end that inning.
"That play turned the game around," Cox said. "They get that run and we're probably in deep trouble."
Beltre drove Reitsma's first pitch of the game over the wall in right for his 36th homer. Green followed by driving a 3-2 pitch into the seats in
right-center for his 20th homer.
Los Angeles had narrowed the gap to 5-3 on Beltre's shot off Russ Ortiz in the sixth. Green led off the second with a homer.
After the Braves scored four times in the opening inning against the struggling Kazuhisa Ishii, the Dodgers got their first run on David Ross'
sacrifice fly in the fourth.
Although he didn't get the win, Ortiz extended his streak of starts without a loss to 11 games, dating to June 20. He's 7-0 over that span.
The Braves' right-hander gave up three runs and six hits.
Estrada hit a two-run double after Julio Franco put Atlanta on the board with a sacrifice fly, and Andruw Jones drove in another run with a broken-bat
Estrada made it 5-1 in the fourth when he homered off Ishii, his eighth home run.
Ishii, who had been demoted to the bullpen, was making his second start after rejoining the rotation to replace the injured Brad Penny.
Ishii gave up five runs on four hits, walked three and struck out three in four innings.