Jones' 10th-inning walk-off helps Braves salvage split

ATLANTA (AP) -- Andruw Jones trotted slowly toward first, admiring the flight of his high drive. By the time he reached home plate, his grateful teammates were there to swallow him up.

Jones led off the bottom of the 10th inning with his 44th homer, giving the Atlanta Braves an 8-7 victory over the Washington Nationals on Thursday night.

The Braves squandered a 7-1 lead before salvaging a split of the four-game series with their NL East rival.

Jones was mobbed at the plate, his teammates jumping on top of him and pounding his helmet. After he finally escaped the pile, Chipper Jones came over for one more playful shove.

"Andruw," manager Bobby Cox said, "without him, we might be smelling trail dust out there."

The crowds at Turner Field have certainly gotten behind their Gold Glove center fielder, chanting "MVP! MVP! MVP!" every time he comes to the plate. He leads the majors in homers and the NL with 110 RBI, not to mention his always-spectacular play in the

"Those are the things that MVPs are made of," Chipper Jones said.

Luis Ayala (8-7), pitching for the first time since Aug. 21, got ahead in the count 1-2 and then tried to blow a high fastball by Andruw Jones.

Big mistake.

He sent a drive toward the seats in left-center, the ball seeming to hang up forever as he watched it along the first base line. Brad Wilkerson and Marlon Byrd both leaped at the wall, but the ball settled in the first row.

"I just looked for a pitch to drive," Jones said. "I had a couple of swings at it. I missed the first, then he came back with a high [pitch] and I had a good swing on it."

Kyle Davies (7-3), called up from the minors earlier in the day, got the win with three scoreless innings. He watched the game-winning homer from the on-deck circle.

"Welcome back," Davies said. "That's got to be at least the fourth time I've seen him do that. They keep trying to sneak a fastball by him, and he keeps hitting it a mile."

Jeff Francoeur hit a three-run homer and Chipper Jones added a two-run shot for the Braves, who were cruising early.

Chipper Jones' homer came in the first, and the Braves scored five more times in the third, highlighted by Francoeur's 11th homer since being called up from Double-A in early July. Also in the inning, Rafael Furcal scored on a wild pitch and Andruw Jones drove in his first run of the night with a groundout.

Vinny Castilla had four RBI as Washington fought back to tie it, despite a couple embarrassing blunders on the bases.

Castilla hit a two-run single off John Smoltz in the fourth but then took off running on a one-out fly to center and was easily doubled off by Andruw Jones' throw back to first.

In the fifth, the Nationals put the first two runners on, and newcomer Deivi Cruz lined a single to right with one out. Coach Dave Huppert wisely held up Byrd coming around third rather than challenge Francoeur's strong arm in right.

But Huppert appeared to throw up his hands a little too late, and Carlos Baerga got caught in a rundown between second and third. Byrd and Baerga both wound up at third -- Baerga was out -- and Smoltz escaped the inning when Jamey Carroll flied out to right.

The Braves then turned things over to the bullpen, which couldn't hold the lead.

Washington scored four runs in the seventh with two outs. Jim Brower, another of the Sept. 1 call-ups, walked Jose Guillen with the bases loaded. Macay McBride did the same with Nick Johnson. Dan Kolb took over and did even worse, giving up a two-run single to Castilla that tied it.

But the stirring comeback didn't matter. Andruw Jones made sure the Braves still won.

"He's carrying that team by himself," Castilla said. "You always knew he has great talent. He has all the tools to become MVP."

Jones drove in all five runs in Atlanta's other win in the series, one in which the Nationals desperately needed to take at least three of four to make up ground on the division-leading Braves. Washington remains seven games back, in last place in the
highly competitive NL East.

"He beat us both games," Castilla said.

Tony Armas lasted only four innings for the Nationals, giving up seven runs.

Smoltz wasn't his usual overpowering self and said afterward that he was bothered by a sore neck. He labored through five innings, giving up seven hits, three runs and striking out only two.

Game notes
Nationals second baseman Jose Vidro left the game after leading off the fourth with a single. He has an inflamed right knee and will undergo an MRI on Friday. Vidro had surgery on the knee during the
offseason and it has continued to bother him. ... Eleven of the 16 games between the teams have been decided by one run, three by two runs. The season series is tied 8-8.