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Wright finishes July undefeated

ATLANTA (AP) -- Jaret Wright learned the lessons from his youth,
thanks mostly to shoulder surgeries in back-to-back years.

He stayed undefeated in July and Johnny Estrada homered to lead
the Atlanta Braves past New York 8-0 on Saturday night and spoil
the Mets debut of Kris Benson.

"Now, I realize you can't always throw it at 120 percent -- not
if you want to pitch for a while," Wright said.

The Mets acquired Benson from Pittsburgh a day earlier, hoping
he would solidify their rotation. Pitching against the Braves for
third straight start, Benson (8-9) lasted only five innings and
lost for the second time in a row.

"They definitely had my number," Benson said. "I didn't pitch
my game. It was awkward out there. That's the first time that's
happened to me this season, where I didn't really feel all that
comfortable."

There have been no such problems for Wright, a one-time phenom
with the Cleveland Indians who started Game 7 of the 1997 World
Series as a 21-year-old. At the time, he had only two thoughts on
the mound -- throw the ball hard or throw it harder.

That was before the shoulder troubles robbed him of the ability
to do that. Although he still can reach the mid-90s with his
fastball, he realizes he doesn't need to.

"The biggest difference is now I want them to hit it," Wright
said. "I want them to put it in play. When you're younger, you
kind of fear contact, because the command isn't there."

Wright (9-5) allowed three hits in seven innings, and improved
to 4-0 this month -- joining teammates Russ Ortiz (5-0) and Mike
Hampton (5-0) with unbeaten records in the month. Since falling to
2-5 in a loss to the Dodgers on May 22, Wright has won seven
straight with a 2.29 ERA in 13 starts.

Did he have any idea he still could pitch like this?

"Nope," he said. "It's just been, for me, whatever happens
when I pitch, happens. Then you go out there in four or five more
days and do it again. As you get older, you realize nothing in the
past really has any bearing on what you're supposed to do in the
next four or five days."

When he was claimed off waivers by Atlanta last season, Wright
appeared in 11 games out of the bullpen and finished 1-0 with a
2.00 ERA. He proved to the Braves -- and himself -- that he was
healthy, and he came to spring training hoping to be a starter.

"I knew he had been outstanding in the bullpen," Atlanta
manager Bobby Cox said. "But he wanted to start, and I wanted him
to real bad. We got him ready in the spring to do that, and he's
been on a roll ever since."

Wright also had two hits and scored twice, while Estrada
finished 3-for-4 with four RBI. Chipper Jones and J.D. Drew drove
in two runs apiece for the Braves, who were 20-6 in July and lead
the division by 4½ games.

It was Atlanta's major league-leading 10th shutout.

Benson beat Atlanta 4-3 on July 21 as a member of the Pirates,
allowing only two runs on five hits in eight innings. In Benson's
next outing, he went six innings in a 4-2 loss. The Braves tagged
him for seven runs on seven hits in this one as the Mets lost for
the 13th time in their past 18 games, and fell eight games behind
Atlanta in the NL East.

"It was the third time in 11 days, so it caught up to him a
little," New York manager Art Howe said. "I saw some things I
liked. He'll be fine."

In the third, Wright bounced an infield single over Benson's
head, then later scored on a broken-bat single by Drew. Jones drove
in Marcus Giles with a shallow sacrifice fly to left, and Estrada
singled to score Drew and make it 3-0.

The Braves chased Benson with a four-run fifth, highlighted by
Estrada's three-run homer to right. His towering drive barely
cleared the wall, landing in the first row of seats. Still, it gave
Atlanta a 7-0 lead.

"I knew I got under it and hit it real high," Estrada said.
"But I knew I hit it real good."

Drew made it 8-0 with an RBI single in the sixth, scoring
Wright.

The Mets had a chance in the second, getting two on with two
outs. But David Wright struck out to end the threat, and they had
no more runners reach second.

Before the game, both teams made minor trades just before the
no-waiver deadline. The Mets sent righty Scott Erickson to Texas
for a player to be named, and the Braves got lefty reliever Tom
Martin from the Dodgers for minor league pitcher Matt Merricks.

Game notes
1B Eric Valent had two of the Mets' five hits. ... Giles
and Drew each stole second against Mets C Mike Piazza for the
second straight game. Piazza has thrown out only 21 percent
(7-of-34) of basestealers this season. ... When Jones scored on
Estrada's homer in the fifth, it was his 1,000th career run. He
trails only Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews and Dale Murphy on the
Braves' career list. ... Mets OF Gerald Williams, called up from
Triple-A Norfolk on Friday, flied out as a pinch-hitter in the
sixth.