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Estrada triple short of cycle in Braves' win

ATLANTA (AP) -- Julio Franco stopped surprising his teammates a
long time ago, and with good reason.

Already this season, the 45-year-old Franco broke his own record
for being the oldest player to hit a pinch-hit home run, and he's
the first non-pitcher to play at this age since Carlton Fisk, who
caught 25 games for the White Sox in 1993.

"It's amazing playing with the guy," Braves catcher Johnny
Estrada said after Atlanta's 8-4 win over the Philadelphia Phillies
on Thursday night. "Every day you get to see history made."

Add another piece of it to the list.

Franco became the oldest player in major league history to hit a
grand slam, connecting in the first inning to lead Atlanta past
Philadelphia.

Estrada finished a triple short of the cycle and drove in three
runs for the Braves, who won for the third time in four games.

Franco hit the first pitch he saw from Josh Hancock into the
seats in right for his first slam since Sept. 1, 1996, when he was
with Cleveland. That was part of a five-run first for Atlanta.

Fisk held the previous record, homering with the bases loaded in
1991 at 43 years old.

"It doesn't mean anything to me," Franco said. "As long as we
win, that's all that matters. If I can contribute to win some ball
games, you feel good about that."

Given that early lead, John Thomson (5-2) cruised through seven
innings and allowed only six hits. One of those was a solo homer by
Jim Thome in the fourth.

"That felt good, after the first inning to see Julio hit the
grand slam," Thomson said. "You don't try to change the way you
pitch when that happens, but there's also a little sense of relief
inside of you."

The Phillies scored three runs in the eighth off Chris Reitsma,
including a two-run homer by Chase Utley. Pat Burrell added an RBI
single, but it wasn't enough to keep them from losing their fourth
straight.

"You have to keep battling," Thome said. "We haven't played
well the last four games, and to sneak a win would be great."

Atlanta made quick work of Hancock (0-1). He was called up
earlier in the day and took the spot in the rotation normally
occupied by Vicente Padilla, who went on the disabled list last
week with tendinitis in his elbow.

It was the second time this season Hancock has made a spot
start; he went five innings against the San Diego Padres on May 22
in place of Randy Wolf.

In this one, Hancock didn't make it to the third. The Braves
tagged him for five runs on five hits in the first, highlighted by
Franco's homer. Estrada added an RBI double earlier in the inning.

In the second, Rafael Furcal singled and later scored on a
single by J.D. Drew. Furcal ran through third-base coach Fredi
Gonzalez's stop sign, and slid under a high relay throw from
shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

"It was just a bad start, from the first pitch," Hancock said.
"After the first pitch, it came undone."

Estrada added a two-run shot in the fourth off Elizardo Ramirez
to give him a team-leading 37 RBI.

But his performance was overshadowed by Franco, who is doing
wondrous things at an age when most players are long retired.
Earlier this season, he became the oldest position player to appear
in a major league game since Minnie Minoso in 1980, according to
the Elias Sports Bureau.

Minoso was 57 when he pinch-hit for the Chicago White Sox on
Oct. 5, 1980.

Franco made his debut in 1982 with the Philadelphia Phillies at
23, and won the AL batting title in 1991 with Texas. Since signing
with the Braves in 2001, he has platooned at first base and served
as a pinch-hitter.

"Records don't mean anything to me," Franco repeated. "Nobody
knows how long you're going to be on this Earth."

Franco is the oldest player in the majors. Left-hander Jesse
Orosco held that distinction before he retired last winter after
pitching at 46.

Game notes
Ramirez walked on four pitches in the fifth during the
first official plate appearance of his career. ... Thomson got
through the first inning on only seven pitches. ... Phillies CF
Marlon Byrd made a nice recovery to snare a line drive by Nick
Green in the third. Byrd started to his left, stumbled a bit, then
raced to his right and made a diving catch.