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Ortiz masterful in extending Dodgers' slide

5/22/2004

ATLANTA (AP) -- Having watched Russ Ortiz escape from one jam
after another, Chipper Jones couldn't resist giving his teammate a
new name.

Nice job, Houdini.

Ortiz twice escaped with the bases loaded and Jones broke up a
scoreless game by homering in the seventh inning, sending the
Atlanta Braves over the slumping Los Angeles Dodgers 2-0 Friday
night.

The Dodgers have lost eight in a row -- their longest slide since
June 1992, when the team dropped 10 straight.

Los Angeles had plenty of chances.

Ortiz walked five and gave up four hits in seven innings. But he
never gave in to the Dodgers, getting out his biggest predicaments
with inning-ending double plays.

"I told him around the fifth or sixth inning, `Nice job
Harry," Jones said. "He was like, 'Harry?' And I said, 'Yeah,
Houdini.' The guy is unbelievable. He constantly puts himself
behind the 8-ball, but somehow, some way, he gets them to hit a
bullet at somebody and we turn the double play.

"Whatever works for you."

What worked for Jones was moving up in the box. He flied out and
struck out in his first two at-bats against Odalis Perez,
struggling to make contact with a changeup that dipped wickedly in
front of the plate.

Perez (2-3) had given up only two hits and not allowed a runner
past second when Jones came up in the seventh, setting up about 8
inches closer to the mound. Perez went with his changeup on a 2-1
pitch, but Jones lofted it into the left-field seats for his fifth
homer of the season.

"I told myself before the last at-bat that I was going to scoot
up in the box and hit the changeup before it dipped," Jones said.
"He's got really good movement, but I finally ran into one."

Perez made the pitch he wanted.

"I don't think it was a mistake," he said. "It was a very
good pitch. He's a very good hitter."

Despite the losing streak, the Dodgers remained first in the NL
West by percentage points over San Diego. But the memory of their
22-10 start is beginning to fade.

"Every team goes through this," Perez said. "We're in a bad
slump. We need to stop it."

Jones' 403-foot homer made a winner of Ortiz (4-4), who left
after 112 pitches. Chris Reitsma pitched a 1-2-3 eighth, and John
Smoltz worked around two hits in the ninth for his seventh save in
eight chances.

While Ortiz struggled with his control, he did bounce back
nicely from his worst start of the season. Last Saturday, he lasted
only 1 1-3 innings at Milwaukee, walking seven and giving up four
runs.

"There's a bigger fire in your belly after a game like that,"
Ortiz said. "You want to go out and have a good, solid start."

He really got tough when the Dodgers got runners on base.

In the second, Adrian Beltre and Juan Encarnacion singled and
Jason Grabowski walked, but Alex Cora grounded into an
inning-ending double play.

Ortiz walked the bases full in the sixth, but Shawn Green's hard
grounder was smothered by shortstop Jesse Garcia, who from his
knees made a quick flip to Nick Green for the relay to first and
another double play.

"It's huge being able to get out of situations like that,"
Ortiz said. "Unfortunately, I've had to do that a lot. But I
always feel I'm going to make my pitch to every hitter."

Perez hasn't won since April 28, despite giving up just nine
earned runs in 28 innings (2.89 ERA) over his last four starts. He
gave up four hits in seven innings to the Braves.

"When we were winning, everybody was happy," Perez said. "We
just need to be patient."

Through the first six innings, only two Atlanta runners got as
far as second base. Mark DeRosa ended an 0-for-16 slump with a
bloop double down the right-field line leading off the third, but
was promptly picked off by Perez.

Green walked in the sixth and went to second on a balk. Garcia
grounded out, ending the inning.

Atlanta added a run in the eighth off Darren Dreifort. Rookie
Nick Green led off with a double and wound up scoring when
shortstop Cesar Izturis made a high throw home on a grounder with
the infield pulled in.

Game notes
Perez, who began his career with the Braves, is 1-1 with
2.05 ERA in three career starts against his former team. ... The
Braves used their 35th different lineup in 40 games. ... Grabowski
extended his career-high hitting streak to seven games with a
ninth-inning single off Smoltz. ... The Braves have surrendered
only one run the last two games. ... Former Braves star Dale Murphy
made a marriage proposal on behalf of his son, Chad, while serving
as a guest analyst on the Braves' television broadcast. Chad called
in to say his girlfriend had accepted.