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Old reliable: Smoltz helps Braves axe four-game skid

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- For almost two decades now, it's been the same
thing for the Atlanta Braves.

Every fifth day -- with the exception of his three-year tenure as
an All-Star closer -- John Smoltz has taken the mound and most often
provided a solid start.

Smoltz snapped Atlanta's four-game losing streak Tuesday night
by pitching seven strong innings in a 4-2 victory over the
Pittsburgh Pirates, who had won a season-best five straight.

"Smoltzie, we know he's always going to get you a great game,"
Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "Nothing that happens surprises me
about John. You expect greatness every time out."

Smoltz (9-5), a 19-year veteran who hasn't lost since June 13,
yielded one run and six hits while walking none and striking out
six. The Braves won the first game of a six-game road trip after
losing five of six at home last week.

Adam LaRoche hit two home runs and Marcus Giles had three
doubles, a run and an RBI for Atlanta, which was coming off a home
sweep at the hands of the New York Mets that dropped the Braves 15
games out of the NL East lead and 6½ games behind in the wild-card
race.

"When my turn comes, it doesn't matter if we have a four-game
winning streak or a four-game losing streak, my job is to be
accountable," said Smoltz, who has spent his entire career with
the Braves.

"I approached it today as an absolute must-win. There is no
other way to approach it."

Smoltz outpitched Ian Snell, who had 10 strikeouts in seven
innings. Jack Wilson had two hits and Jeromy Burnitz an RBI double
for Pittsburgh at steamy PNC Park, where the gametime temperature
was a humid 86 degrees.

"We played a good ballgame tonight," Pirates manager Jim Tracy
said. "We got beat by a pretty good pitcher. That's what it boils
down to."

LaRoche, who has hit two homers in a game three times in the
past three weeks, had solo shots into the right-field seats off
Snell (9-7) in the third and sixth. It was LaRoche's sixth career
multihomer game and fourth this season.

"Some days I feel great and I feel like I will hit everything
out of the ballpark and other days I feel like it's the first day
of spring training," LaRoche said. "I need to work that out."

The new-look Pirates made four trades Monday before the
non-waiver deadline, adding four new players to the roster -- three
of whom saw action.

Xavier Nady started at first base in his Pittsburgh debut and
went 1-for-4 with a single. He also made a nice defensive play in
the eighth inning.

Primarily an outfielder during his major league career, Nady was
acquired in a deal with the New York Mets. He played 44 games at
first base for San Diego last season.

Pirates center fielder and leadoff hitter Chris Duffy went
0-for-4 with two strikeouts after being recalled from Triple-A, and
reliever Josh Sharpless made his major league debut in the eighth.
He walked three batters but did not allow a run.

Snell, who allowed four runs and nine hits, tied a career high
for strikeouts, a mark he set June 5 at Colorado.

"I came out today focused and ready to pitch against a future
Hall of Famer and a good team," Snell said. "I made a few
mistakes, and it cost me."

Bob Wickman worked the ninth for his 18th save in 21
opportunities this season. It was his third in three tries with the
Braves.

Wickman allowed an unearned run in the ninth on Ronny Paulino's
RBI single before striking out pinch-hitter Jose Hernandez with two
on to end it.

"It was a tough homestand, and this is a good way to get out on
a road trip," Cox said.

LaRoche's 21st home run came after Snell retired his first six
batters -- four on strikeouts.

"It's big to get a lead," LaRoche said. "The pitchers get a
little cushion, a little more confidence to go at guys and be more
aggressive."

Giles, who also had an RBI double in the fifth, made it 2-0 with
two outs in the fourth when he scored from second on Brian McCann's
pop fly to shallow left that dropped for an RBI single when Jason
Bay couldn't reach it in time.

"For whatever reason, on the road recently we have been jumping
ahead and staying ahead," Smoltz said.

Burnitz cut the lead in half in the bottom of the fourth when
his two-out double high off the right-field wall scored Freddy
Sanchez, who had also doubled.

But Smoltz -- for whom the Atlanta bullpen has blown six
potential wins this season -- allowed only three more baserunners.

"We got seven good innings out of (Smoltz)," Giles teased.
"Shocker, isn't it?"

Game notes
LaRoche also had two home runs July 14 and July 24. ...
Pirates starters have pitched into the seventh inning in five of
their last six games. ... Snell is averaging 7.9 strikeouts per
nine innings, moving into the top 10 in the NL in that category.
... This was the first meeting between the teams in exactly one
year.