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Estrada hurt after collision with Erstad

ATLANTA (AP) -- Darin Erstad excels at contact sports -- including
baseball.

A punter at Nebraska and a high school hockey star in North
Dakota, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Erstad barreled over catcher Johnny
Estrada to score on Garret Anderson's go-ahead double Monday night,
leading the Los Angeles Angels to a 4-2 victory over the Atlanta
Braves in the first meeting between the teams.

Erstad planted his left shoulder into Estrada's facemask in a
violent home-plate collision in the eighth inning, giving Los
Angeles the lead and sending Estrada to the hospital.

"There is no intent to injure at all there," Erstad said. "I
just hope he's OK."

Atlanta's John Smoltz retired his first 14 batters and carried a
2-1 lead into the eighth, but the Angels put runners at the corners
with one out.

Anderson's drive to right drove in Chone Figgins from third and
Erstad, who scored from first base by knocking the ball from
Estrada's grasp.

Estrada caught second baseman Marcus Giles' relay throw at the
plate, but Erstad, who helped Nebraska win the 1994 national
championship, delivered a shoulder-first blow, knocking the ball
loose while also knocking off Estrada's helmet.

While a groggy Estrada reached for the ball, Erstad reached back
to tag the plate for a 3-2 Angels lead.

Estrada clutched his head before receiving attention from Braves
trainer Jeff Porter. He and assistant trainer Jim Lovell helped
Estrada off the field.

Estrada was conscious but was taken to Piedmont Hospital to be
examined for a possible concussion and neck injury.

Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia defended the play, saying,
"It's baseball."

"Erstad had to make a decision to either slide or to try to get
through the block," Scioscia said. "It's a clean play. Our
thoughts are with Johnny. We hope he's all right."

Some Braves players objected to Erstad hitting Estrada's head
instead of his body, or possibly sliding for the plate.

"It depends on what you guys call clean," first baseman Julio
Franco said. "I played against Erstad, and his mentality is not my
mentality. He plays the game like a football player.

"The only thing I see is, I don't mind the hit, I mind the
location of the hit. He could have hit lower, that's fine with me.
Hitting a guy like that, in his face, could cause major damage to
his health."

Erstad had an open cut on his left shoulder that was still
bleeding after the game.

Braves manager Bobby Cox said Estrada "could get up off the
ground, which is a real good sign. So maybe nothing's wrong with
his neck and his head. It snapped his head pretty good. He got hit
high. It was going to be a close play."

As a groggy Estrada was attended to by Braves trainers, some
Braves players yelled and pointed across the field at Erstad.

"You can analyze it all day long," Erstad said. "There are
different ways to do it. I made a decision. I hope he's OK."

With Smoltz (4-5) still in the game after Anderson's double,
Dallas McPherson followed with a single to drive in Anderson,
pushing the lead to 4-2.

Brendan Donnelly (3-1) earned the win in relief of starter John
Lackey.

Francisco Rodriguez got three outs for his 11th save in 12
chances, striking out Rafael Furcal with two on to end it.

Smoltz allowed four runs and 13 hits in 8 1/3 innings, striking
out five.

The Braves, who placed third baseman Chipper Jones on the 15-day
disabled list Monday with a sore foot, can't afford to lose
Estrada, the team's cleanup hitter. Jones will have more tests
Tuesday to determine the severity of his injury, which has plagued
him since late April.

Jones aggravated the injury Sunday in Pittsburgh, and the team
also placed starting pitcher Mike Hampton on the disabled list last
week.

The increasingly young Atlanta roster now includes eight
rookies, including three who started in the first meeting between
the Braves and Angels: outfielders Ryan Langerhans and Kelly
Johnson, and third baseman Wilson Betemit, who started for Jones.

Another young Braves starter, 25-year-old first baseman Adam
LaRoche, hit a two-run homer off Lackey in the fourth for a 2-0
lead.

Lackey pitched six innings, giving up seven hits and two runs.

A balk helped set up the Angels' first run in the sixth. With
two outs, Steve Finley doubled and advanced to third when
second-base umpire Brian Runge called the balk on Smoltz, who
argued the call.

Anderson drove in Finley with a single off the glove of a diving
Furcal behind second base.

Game notes
Angels catcher Bengie Molina was thrown out attempting to
steal second after a leadoff single in the seventh. ... Furcal
stole his NL-leading 21st base in the third.