ATLANTA -- Javier Vazquez and everyone else in the Atlanta lineup made sure the Braves were feeling good as they headed off on an important road trip.
Vazquez pitched seven scoreless innings, each starter contributed to a 17-hit attack and the Braves romped past the San Diego Padres 9-1 on Thursday night, avoiding a sweep and moving closer in the wild-card race."This was as close to a must-win game as you can have at the end of August," Chipper Jones said. "If we lose this game, we'd be looking back at the end of the season and saying this was the series that really killed our momentum."Atlanta pulled within 4 1/2 games of wild-card leader Colorado, which lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2. Now, it's off for three games at NL East-leading Philadelphia and four more at Florida, which is tied with the Braves for second in the division and third in the wild-card race."We needed to win this game," Vazquez said. "Losing the first two games to San Diego was frustrating. But we came back today and scored some runs."Vazquez (11-9) snapped his first two-game losing streak of the season, allowing five hits, and went on cruise control after the Braves put up five runs in the second. He struck out six, didn't walk anyone and threw only 88 pitches before turning it over to the bullpen."Obviously, when the guys put up a lot of runs early, it makes it easier," he said. "You can be a little more aggressive and pound the strike zone."Every Atlanta starter, Vazquez included, had at least one hit. Adam LaRoche homered, hot-hitting Matt Diaz drove in two runs from the leadoff spot and Omar Infante reached base four times. Even Jones, mired in an extended slump, managed two hits and would have had another if not for a great diving catch in left-center by Tony Gwynn Jr. The last-place Padres were going for their first sweep since May, but they didn't put up much of a fight in this one.Clayton Richard (3-1) was rocked for nine hits and six runs in 2 1/3 innings and the Padres offense returned to its anemic ways, pushing only one runner past second base against Vazquez after scoring 12 runs the previous night."It was a rough one," Richard said. "I feel like if I was taking care of business like I should have, we'd have a positive outcome. There's definitely things I can learn from and I'll take those away."Vazquez, who had allowed a total of nine runs in his two previous starts, completely stifled the next-to-lowest-scoring team in the NL. He has allowed three runs or less in 19 of his 26 starts."He's a very, very solid pitcher, and tonight he was on," Padres manager Bud Black said. "Tremendous use of the fastball tonight. Pitching with a lead is for some guys difficult. But for him, he kept locating the fastball and being aggressive."Will Venable homered off Buddy Carlyle in the ninth to ruin Atlanta's shutout bid.After an early evening storm delayed the first pitch 21 minutes, the Braves sent 10 batters to the plate their second time up. Vazquez, Diaz and Brian McCann had RBI singles, Martin Prado chipped in with a sacrifice fly and an error by Venable in right field allowed another run to score.Diaz finished off Richard in the third with another run-scoring hit that made it 6-0 and had three hits in the leadoff spot, getting up six times."I'm definitely on a little bit of a roll, and I want to prolong it a little longer," said Diaz, who batted in the top spot for the second straight game and is 18-for-36 over his last nine contests. "You definitely get up a lot when you're hitting leadoff. Six at-bats in a game is awesome."
Jones went 2-for-3 with two walks. He has three hits in his last 35 at-bats. ... Venable's homer kept the Padres from their 11th shutout of the season. ... The Braves called up Carlyle before the game and optioned RHP Manny Acosta to Triple-A Gwinnett. ... Atlanta left at least one runner on in every inning.