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Braves increase NL East lead to two games

ATLANTA (AP) -- Jeff Francoeur, who turned down a football
scholarship at Clemson to play baseball, showed Wednesday night
that he knows something about a third sport.

"I think it's just part of being a golfer; I put a spin on the
sand wedge," Francoeur said in explaining his eighth-inning,
run-scoring bloop double that gave the Atlanta Braves the lead in
their 4-3 win over the Washington Nationals.

Francoeur, a former Atlanta-area high school star who was called
up from Double-A Mississippi on July 7, had three hits and drove in
two runs in his first start against a right-handed pitcher.

Braves manager Bobby Cox said it didn't matter that two of
Francoeur's hits were bloopers.

"What he's done, he's put the ball in play, and when you do
that you give yourself a chance," Cox said. "That's the name of
the game -- put it in play."

Atlanta wasted a 3-1 lead in the eighth, then went ahead in the
bottom half against Gary Majewski (2-2).

Chipper Jones singled with two outs and stole second, and Adam
LaRoche was intentionally walked. Francoeur blooped a double into
shallow center, allowing Jones to score the go-ahead run.

"I was just lucky to hit it in the right place," Francoeur
said.

Francoeur also gave the Braves a 2-1 lead with a fourth-inning
single.

Dan Kolb (3-6) won despite giving up two key hits in the eighth,
and Chris Reitsma finished for his 11th save in 15 chances.

Atlanta, which won the first two games of the three-game series,
opened a two-game lead in the NL East, its largest margin since the
Braves led by 2½ games after play on May 15.

The Nationals held a team meeting after the game.

Washington is 6-15 since leading the NL East by 5½ games on July
2.

Asked if he is angry and frustrated, Washington manager Frank
Robinson said: "A little bit of all of the above. ... We're not
playing winning baseball."

Robinson said the meeting "was something I had to do, get it
off my chest, and I did it."

Francoeur is hitting .433, and Cox said after the game the
rookie will start again Thursday when the Braves face right-hander
Ryan Drese.

Francoeur had been sharing time with fellow rookie Ryan
Langerhans in right field. Langerhans will move to left field
Thursday as Cox rests a third rookie outfielder, Kelly Johnson, who
is hitting only .224.

"I'm having a blast," Francoeur said. "I'm looking forward to
it. It will be good to get to start two days in a row, especially
against a right-hander."

Tim Hudson gave up one run and five hits in seven innings,
handing his bullpen a 3-1 lead.

John Foster walked Brad Wilkerson and Jose Vidro leading off the
eighth, prompting Cox to bring in Kolb. Jose Guillen and Nick
Johnson hit RBI singles, bringing boos from the crowd of 40,625.

Washington's Esteban Loaiza gave up three runs -- two earned --
and seven hits in six-plus innings.

Wilkerson led off the game with a triple to the right-field
corner and scored on Guillen's single. The Nationals loaded the
bases before Vinny Castilla grounded into an inning-ending double
play.

Marcus Giles hit a solo homer in the fourth, and Andruw Jones
followed with a high pop fly that Johnson and Vidro lost in the
lights and fell at least 15 feet from the first baseman for an easy
double. Francoeur singled through the pitcher's legs with two outs
for a 2-1 lead.

"I don't know why they couldn't see it," Robinson said of the
pop fly.

Francoeur led off the seventh with a bloop single that shortstop
Cristian Guzman appeared to lose in the lights, and Loaiza threw
the ball into the outfield on Brian McCann's bunt for an error.
With Julio Franco at the plate, reliever Joey Eischen threw a
run-scoring wild pitch.

"I think we hit one ball hard all night -- Giles' home run,"
Chipper Jones said. "Everything else was a blooper."

Game notes
There was a 27-minute rain delay in the top of the third
inning. ... Chipper Jones stole his second base of the season in
the eighth inning. ... Nick Johnson was 2-for-3 in his second game
since being activated from the disabled list.