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Braves blow three-run lead, but rally to beat Marlins

ATLANTA (AP) -- The Atlanta Braves are hitting plenty of homers,
and now they have someone who can actually hold a ninth-inning
lead.

Adam LaRoche hit the last of Atlanta's three homers, a
tiebreaking, two-out shot in the eighth, and Bob Wickman got the
final three outs to preserve a 6-5 victory over the Florida Marlins
on Wednesday night.

Andruw Jones tied the game with a leadoff homer in the eighth.
Three batters later, LaRoche won it with his 20th of the season,
equaling his career-best output from a year ago with 62 games
remaining.

The Braves have 49 homers in July, a franchise record for this
month, and are six away from the major league mark for July set by
the 1947 Giants and 2003 Red Sox. Fifty-five also is the team
record for any month.

They're also keeping themselves on the fringe of the wild-card
race after getting off to a dismal start.

"These games really make you feel like it's a playoff
atmosphere," LaRoche said. "It feels like the last game of the
season, and it means everything."

Atlanta struggled much of the season to protect late-inning
leads, but Wickman appears to have settled the bullpen. Acquired
last week from Cleveland, the two-time All-Star has three straight
scoreless appearances for the Braves, adding two saves to the 15 he
had for the Indians.

"It's a good feeling having a guy who's done it for many, many
years," said Atlanta manager Bobby Cox, who wasn't around to see
the ending after being ejected in the eighth for arguing a checked
swing.

The Marlins, battling back from a 3-0 deficit, went ahead for
the first time when Dan Uggla's solo homer off John Smoltz made it
5-4 in the top half of the eighth.

But the Braves put together their own rally. Jones, who had not
started in the last three games because of a sore back, didn't
appear to be in any pain as he sent the first pitch from Logan Kensing deep into the seats in left-center for his 25th homer.

Jones came into the night tied for the NL lead with 88 RBI.

"To tell you the truth, I really didn't swing," Jones said.
"It was just really solid contact and the ball took care of me."

Kensing got the next two hitters, but Florida called on
left-hander Taylor Tankersley (1-1) to face the hot-hitting
LaRoche. The move didn't work. On a 3-2 pitch, LaRoche hit a
towering drive that cleared the wall in right-center.

"I was definitely trying to hit a gap," said LaRoche, who has
16 RBI in 10 games since the All-Star break. "I'm not a lot of
use on first base."

Smoltz (8-5) cruised through the first five innings, facing only
one batter above the minimum while the Braves staked him to a
three-run lead against Florida starter Josh Johnson.

The Marlins broke through in the sixth, however. Miguel Olivo
led off with single, moved up on Johnson's sacrifice bunt and
scored on Alfredo Amezaga's single up the middle. Uggla doubled to
the gap in left-center, bringing Amezaga all the way home, and
Michael Jacobs came through with a two-out, run-scoring single that
tied the game at three.

"I'm proud of the way our guys came back," manager Joe Girardi
said. "They never gave up. They kept fighting."

The Braves went back ahead in the bottom half of the sixth,
taking advantage of some shaky defense by the Marlins. Taking his
eye off the ball as he set for a possible inning-ending double
play, Uggla led a routine grounder deflect off his glove and skid
into right field.

The misplay allowed LaRoche to drive in an unearned run with a
two-out single, which was kicked away by right fielder Jeremy Hermida for the second error of the inning. That one didn't cause
any more damage -- Johnson retired Smoltz on a flyout with the bases
loaded.

Trailing again, Florida came right back in the seventh. Joe Borchard hit an opposite field homer deep into the left-field
seats, his seventh of the year making it 4-4. The Uggla took Smoltz
deep again.

"I don't know what happened," Smoltz said. "That's the most
embarrassed I've been ever been as far as feeling like I had the
game in hand."

The Braves jumped ahead in the second, stringing together three
straight hits against Johnson. Ryan Langerhans doubled in a run,
then Smoltz made it 2-0 with a squeeze bunt that brought home
LaRoche. Langerhans tried to score all the way from second on the
play, but he was easily thrown out at home by Jacobs.

Brian McCann hit his 12th homer for the Braves in the fourth.

"The way the Braves have been swinging the bats the last month,
you make one mistake and it's going to hurt you," Girardi said.

Game notes
Braves 3B Chipper Jones returned to the lineup after
missing three games with a strained side muscle. He went 0-for-3
with a walk, ending a 20-game hitting streak that equaled the
longest of his career. ... Florida dropped to 4-20 at Turner Field
over the last three seasons, including 1-5 this year. ... Johnson
went six innings, giving up seven hits and four runs, three earned.
... Cox was ejected for the 124th time in his managing career, tied
with Leo Durocher for second on the career list and trailing only
John McGraw.