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Johnson, Braves rally past Cubs in seventh

• Hero: Johnson had two hits in four at-bats from his leadoff spot.

• Figure this: Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano's ERA stands at 7.77.

• Quotable: "With the bases loaded, he's got to come to you, especially after walking a guy." -- Johnson on his game-winning hit

-- ESPN.com news services

Braves 8, Cubs 6

ATLANTA (AP) -- The Atlanta Braves' bullpen was so thin that manager Bobby Cox was ready to send one of his starters to the mound. Fortunately for him, his relievers held up at the end.

Kelly Johnson hit a go-ahead, two-run single in the seventh inning and five Atlanta relievers gave up only one earned run in 3 2/3 innings to help the Braves beat the Cubs 8-6 Wednesday night.

Jeff Francoeur hit a three-run homer off Carlos Zambrano in the first inning and Scott Thorman added another homer for the Braves, who survived with a limited bullpen.

Atlanta relievers pitched a combined seven innings in two games at Washington on Monday and Tuesday, so Cox was holding back top setup men Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez.

"We were short tonight, pretty bad," Cox said, adding he would have used Thursday's scheduled starter, Mark Redman, if necessary behind closer Bob Wickman in the ninth inning.

Instead, Wickman retired the Cubs in order for his fifth save.

Meanwhile, Chicago's bullpen also was drained. Before the game, Cubs manager Lou Piniella said left-hander Scott Eyre was his only reliever "who's nice and rested."

Eyre (0-1) gave up three runs in the seventh after Chicago scored twice in the top half of the inning to take a 6-5 lead.

"What did us in tonight was a really tired bullpen," Piniella said. "We battled back but we just couldn't hold them."

With two outs, Eyre loaded the bases with two walks and an infield hit by pinch-hitter Matt Diaz. Johnson then drove in two runs with a single to right.

"With the bases loaded, he's got to come to you, especially after walking a guy," said Johnson, who went 2-for-4. "He threw a strike and I was ready to jump on it."

Johnson, who has taken over for Marcus Giles as the Braves' second baseman and leadoff hitter, has six hits in his last two games.

"When he was in the minor leagues, he was our No. 1-rated hitting prospect, so I know he's gonna hit," Cox said. "I've seen him."

Edgar Renteria added another run-scoring single off Eyre to give the Braves a two-run lead.

"I let our bullpen down," Eyre said. "I needed to step up, and I didn't."

Zambrano struggled again for the Cubs. He walked five, hit a batter with a pitch and allowed eight hits and five runs in six innings. He gave up six runs in the fifth inning of a 6-5 loss to Cincinnati on Friday.

"I made a lot of mistakes today," Zambrano said. "The first two innings I wasn't feeling good. I wasn't hitting my spots. I was fighting myself."

Zambrano has a 7.77 ERA after four starts. He has given up six homers and walked 16 batters in 22 innings.

"I guarantee I won't finish like this," Zambrano said.

Zambrano also struggled early last season. He was 0-2 with a 5.35 ERA after six starts but recovered to finish 16-7 with a 3.41 ERA.

The Cubs were trailing 5-4 when Zambrano left the game but they pushed across two runs against Oscar Villarreal (1-0) in the top of the seventh to take the lead.

Mark DeRosa's first-inning homer gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead but Atlanta scored four runs in the bottom half, highlighted by Francoeur's third drive of the season.

Kyle Davies gave up four runs and six hits in 5 1-3 innings for Atlanta.

Davies, making his second start, gave up only two runs and three hits through five innings before tiring in the sixth. With one out, Davies gave up back-to-back doubles to Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, cutting the lead to 5-3. Ramirez moved to third on Cliff Floyd's single, knocking Davies out of the game, and Tyler Yates allowed Michael Barrett's sacrifice fly.

Lee hit an RBI double in the seventh and scored on Villarreal's wild pitch give Chicago a 6-5 lead.

The Cubs loaded the bases in the eighth but Ryan Theriot hit into an inning-ending double play. Thorman saved the play by making a scoop on Johnson's low throw from second.

"Thorman made one of the best picks I've ever seen," Johnson said.

Game notes
DeRosa hit second for the first time this season. ... Cubs SS Cesar Izturis stole his first base of the year. ... The homers by Francoeur and Thorman gave Atlanta an NL-leading 20. ... Braves pitchers had not allowed a homer in 69 consecutive innings before DeRosa's first-inning shot to left off Davies.