Braves top Giants, match season's longest home win streak

ATLANTA (AP) -- Adam LaRoche had three doubles and a triple and drove in three runs. Yet he really wanted to talk about a foul ball.

LaRoche yanked a ball completely out of Turner Field in the eighth inning, the ball soaring over the roof of the third deck down the right-field line. It wasn't close to being fair -- about the only thing that didn't go right for the streaking first baseman who led the Atlanta Braves past the San Francisco Giants 5-3 on Wednesday night.

"I'm so much more excited to hit a ball out of the stadium than I am getting the four hits," LaRoche quipped. "I'd like to get a distance on it. It had some good air."

The Braves, who've given up on winning a 15th straight division title, are making a late push for the wild card with four straight wins at home. If nothing else, they are having a lot more fun.

Marcus Giles smacked LaRoche in the face with a pie while he did a live television interview in front of the Braves' dugout. John Smoltz kept saying he was the one who sparked LaRoche's hot streak by making his teammate move to a different locker in the Turner Field clubhouse.

"The locker change," Smoltz yelled. "Don't forget the locker change."

LaRoche said the Braves are starting to regain some of their swagger.

"This is what it's all about," said LaRoche, who's batting .368 with 14 homers and 38 RBI since the All-Star break. "We strayed away from that for a while."

The Braves began the night four games behind in the crowded wild-card race, hardly a daunting margin but complicated by the fact that seven teams were ahead of them.

But Smoltz, the team's best pitcher, will pitch the series finale Thursday and try to give the Braves their longest winning streak on one homestand all season. For now, they've matched a four-game sweep of the Florida Marlins from May 15-18.

"I think we've got a lot of momentum going," said Chuck James,
who held the Giants to six hits in seven innings for his third straight win. "And we've got Smoltzie going tomorrow. I think we're going to get it rolling here and give ourselves a shot at the wild card."

The rookie James (7-3) kept Barry Bonds from doing any damage by hitting the 42-year-old slugger in the back with a pitch and
walking him twice. The previous night, Bonds had his first two-homer game in two years.

"That's not what I had in mind," said James, who was stared down after plunking Bonds in the first. "I've thought about facing him ever since I was a little kid. I got caught up in that and overthrew it a little bit."

LaRoche tied the game at 2 in the fourth with the second of his three doubles. He did even more damage in the sixth, driving Brad Hennessey's final pitch into the right-field corner for a triple that drove in two runs.

"He's hot right now," Hennessey said. "When you're hot, things go your way. He does a good job of putting the ball in play."

LaRoche wound up scoring on a suicide squeeze bunt, a popup by Ryan Langerhans that turned into an infield single when it somehow dropped between reliever Jack Taschner and second baseman Ray Durham.

Eight-time Gold Glover Andruw Jones came up with a huge defensive play in the eighth, leaping against the center-field wall to rob Durham of a two-run homer. Jones took off with his back to the plate, timed his jump perfectly and stuck his glove over the wall to make the catch.

Was that one of his top catches in a career filled with them?

"Not really," Jones said with a shrug. "I've had better plays."

Bob Wickman pitched the ninth for his 10th save in as many chances since being acquired from Cleveland, even though he gave up a leadoff homer to Eliezer Alfonzo. It was the first run Wickman has allowed in 15 appearances covering 14 1/3 innings for the Braves.

Hennessey (5-4) lasted 5 1/3 innings, surrendering eight hits and all five Atlanta runs. He also hit three batters and walked another.

Shea Hillenbrand drove in both Giants' runs with sacrifice flies but made the final out with a runner on.

Game notes
San Francisco ended the Braves' streak of three straight games with double-figure runs, two short of the team's offensive outburst in mid-July that tied a major-league record. ... Atlanta's Jeff Francoeur was thrown out at the plate in the second. ... Bonds did get a hit in his only official at-bat. He singled up the middle off Chad Paronto and was replaced by pinch-runner Todd Linden.