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Braves break through distractions

ATLANTA (AP) -- A three-game losing streak. A teammate's arrest.
The Atlanta Braves needed some good news in the worst way.

They got it.

Johnny Estrada hit a three-run homer and John Thomson pitched
six solid innings, leading the Braves to a 4-3 victory over the
Montreal Expos on Friday night.

"You've got to try to turn it around and get back in a positive
swing," Thomson said. "With all the distractions we've had, we
still went out there and won the game."

The biggest distraction was caused by shortstop Rafael Furcal,
who was arrested on drunken driving charges early Friday. Jailed
much of the day, Furcal arrived at Turner Field about 1½ hours
before the game but didn't play.

"It's an unfortunate situation for him and our team," Estrada
said. "But we didn't let it affect us."

The Braves were coming off three straight losses to
Philadelphia, putting them on the cusp of their longest losing
streak of the season. Despite being outhit 13-6, Atlanta extended
its NL East lead to 7½ games over Florida.

The Marlins split a doubleheader with the Chicago Cubs.

"The way we played against Philly, that didn't even look like
us out there," Thomson said. "It was like you were on the outside
looking in. When I came in today, somebody said, 'I hope you
brought your good stuff today, because we need this one."

Thomson (11-8) gave up three hits and an unearned run in the
first, but Charles Thomas ended the inning by throwing out Terrmel
Sledge at the plate.

Thomson escaped a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the third and left
after the sixth with a 4-2 lead. Antonio Alfonseca pitched a
scoreless seventh and John Smoltz got the final six outs, earning
his 37th save.

The Braves quickly erased Montreal's lead in the home half of
the first. Thomas followed his strong throw by singling to right.
John Patterson (3-5) retired the next two hitters, but a walk to
Chipper Jones extended the inning.

Estrada made the Expos pay, lining a 1-0 pitch off the
right-field foul pole -- the shortest part of the field -- for his
ninth homer of the season.

"I could have thrown it out there better than that," said
Estrada, who was jammed on the pitch. "I thought it was going to
hook foul, but it stayed straight and hit off the net."

Montreal closed to 3-2 in the fifth. With two outs, Juan Rivera
beat out a grounder that shortstop Mark DeRosa fielded deep in the
hole while Brad Wilkerson trotted in from third.

Patterson gave the run right back. In the bottom half, Marcus
Giles hit the first pitch into the left-field seats for his sixth
homer, restoring the Braves' two-run lead.

Giles, mired in an 0-for-15 slump, would have settled for a hit
of any kind.

"It's nice to contribute on the offensive end for a change,"
he told reporters. "It's about time for me. I don't know what to
say. I'm as shocked as you guys."

Chris Reitsma gave up two straight hits to start the Montreal
eighth, forcing the Braves to bring on Smoltz ahead of schedule.
The closer got Ryan Church to hit into a double play, though Sledge
scored from third to make it 4-3.

Smoltz then gave up two more hits in the eighth, but Maicer
Izturis ended the threat by flying out to center.

Smoltz got in more trouble in the ninth. The Expos put a runner
at third with two outs, but Sledge ended it by flying out.

The Expos squandered their best chance in the third. Wilkerson
led off with a double, Jamey Carroll walked and Sledge beat out
what was intended as a sacrifice bunt for a hit.

But Thomson struck out Rivera and got Church to hit into a
double play.

"That was the turning point in my mind," Braves manager Bobby
Cox said.

The Expos left nine runners on base.

"The big hit never came when we needed it," Expos manager
Frank Robinson said. "We didn't maximize our chances early in the
game."

Game notes
Expos C Brian Schneider was struck just above the left
elbow by Giles' bat in the first inning. The catcher got a little
too close to the plate and was hit on the follow-through of Giles'
swing. Schneider suffered a painful bruise, finally forcing him out
of the game after the fifth. ... Thomas took Furcal's normal spot
at the leadoff hitter and went 1-for-4. DeRosa filled in at
shortstop, bobbling a grounder in the first that led to Montreal's
first run. ... The Braves are 40-20 against NL East teams this
year, including 13-4 vs. Montreal.