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Smoltz overcomes two homers in fine performance

CINCINNATI (AP) -- John Smoltz has topped 100 innings in
mid-June, one of the mileposts for his return to the rotation. He's
closing in on a more important goal.

Each time out, Smoltz looks a little more invincible.

The right-hander won for the third time in his last four starts,
striking out nine Cincinnati Reds in another throwback performance,
and homers by Rafael Furcal and Marcus Giles sparked the Atlanta
Braves to a 5-2 victory Thursday night.

"I said it in spring training after the first game: I want to
get back to where when I'm on the field, they feel we're going to
win," said Smoltz (6-5), who lowered his ERA to 3.14. "That takes
re-earning. That doesn't just come back because I was a decent
closer."

After four years and 154 saves as Atlanta's closer, the
38-year-old Smoltz returned to the role that helped him become one
of the majors' best. In his last few starts, it seemed like old
times.

"We feel like we're going to win every time he goes out
there," said Chris Reitsma, who pitched the ninth for his fifth
save in seven chances. "It's a good feeling for him but also for
the team."

Smoltz threw his first complete game last Saturday, a
five-hitter for a 5-3 win over Oakland. His nasty slider baffled
the Reds, who had only four batters reach safely.

Smoltz gave up four hits in eight innings, including solo homers
by Joe Randa and Adam Dunn. Dunn's 17th homer in the seventh inning
landed on top of the batter's eye, an estimated 455 feet away.

For the third straight game, Smoltz didn't walk a batter.

In other words, it was vintage Smoltz.

"He's pitched like that his whole life," manager Bobby Cox
said. "He doesn't get off track much."

The Braves won for only the fifth time in their last 14 games, a
slump that dropped them to fourth in the NL East and gave Smoltz
extra motivation. Injuries are a big factor -- starters John
Thomson, Mike Hampton and Tim Hudson are sidelined by injuries.

"I don't approach many games like it's the playoffs," Smoltz
said. "It's just hard to do that every time out. But the last
couple I have approached like a playoff because the wins aren't
coming the way they should and we need to start pouring them on
there."

The Reds lost their fourth straight, unable to get anything out
of a free-swinging offense that relies on homers. They were
outscored 23-4 during a three-game sweep in Boston, and were topped
by a Braves offense that ranks second-to-last in the NL.

The loss dropped the last-place Reds back to their season-low
point -- 14 games under .500 (26-40) and 15½ games out in the NL
Central.

"We've run into guys who've been throwing the ball well," Dunn
said. "The last four days, when we've been struggling offensively,
each of those guys have been on their games."

Furcal opened the game with his fifth homer off left-hander
Brandon Claussen (3-4). Giles, who is 4-for-5 in his career against
Claussen, led off the fifth with an opposite-field homer.

Reds pitchers have given up 94 homers this season, by far the
most in the majors. They set franchise records for homers allowed
each of the last two seasons.

Braves first baseman Julio Franco showed he can still run at age
46, especially when he's overlooked by the pitcher. Franco, who
already holds the distinction as the oldest major leaguer to steal
a base, stole second and third in the seventh inning off reliever
Matt Belisle -- his first two-steal game since 1994.

"Stealing second is one thing," Reds manager Dave Miley said.
"Stealing third is a whole other thing. We fell asleep. We looked
at the advance reports and we were even yelling 'Heads up' at
him."

Johnny Estrada doubled home Franco, and Brian Jordan added an
RBI single that made it 5-1.

Smoltz had two singles, the 21st two-hit game of his career and
first since Sept. 26, 1999.

Game notes
Smoltz is 18-11 with one save against the Reds in 35 starts
and seven relief appearances. It was his first win over Cincinnati
since Aug. 24, 1999, before reconstructive elbow surgery led to his
mid-career role change. ... It was the 12th time Furcal led off a
game with a homer. The last time was Sept. 12 against Montreal. ...
Franco has four steals this season. His last two-steal game was
July 17, 1994, against Cleveland. Franco has 24 two-steal games in
his career.