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Braves Beat Astros, Take 1st

Pascual Matos got to be the hero... twice.

Denied a three-run homer when the umpires reversed a call, the rookie catcher followed with a two-run single in the eighth inning for his first major-league hit, giving the Atlanta Braves a 5-3 victory over the Houston Astros on Monday night.

"If I die tomorrow," Matos said, "that's OK."

The Braves, who spent the previous six days in second place, reclaimed the top spot in the NL East by a half-game over the New York Mets, who were routed 9-2 by Los Angeles.

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  • Matos was called up from Triple-A Richmond last weekend when Eddie Perez dropped his appeal of four-game suspension. Though certain to go back to the minors after Perez returns, Matos provided one of the most memorable moments of the season after entering the game when the Braves used a pinch-runner for starting catcher Greg Myers.

    Matos, who was 0-for-7 in his major league career, batted against Doug Henry (1-2) with one out in the eighth and runners at second and third in a 3-3 game.

    On the first pitch, Matos sent a towering drive down the left-field line that was ruled a homer by third-base umpire Larry Vanover.

    "I saw it curve in front of the foul pole five or seven inches," Matos said. "When he called it fair, I told myself to run the bases fast or maybe he'll change his mind."

    Matos made it to the dugout and began celebrating with his teammates, but the Astros were already arguing the call with the entire umpiring crew. After a brief discussion, they called Matos back from the dugout, saying the ball had hooked foul.

    Braves manager Bobby Cox, with a good view of the ball from the first-base dugout, came out to meewith the umpires but didn't seriously contest the decision.

    "You can't argue a play like that," he said. "They're here to get it right. They got it right."

    Matos grabbed his bat and returned to the field, disappointed by his change of fortune but having another chance to come through with the big hit. He did, lining a single past a diving Russ Johnson at third to score Ryan Klesko and Andruw Jones with the tie-breaking runs.

    "I told myself, `Oh, man, I've got to hit again,"' Matos recalled. "But I tried again to hit the ball hard and I got it between third and shortstop. I was still happy."

    John Rocker worked the ninth for his 23rd save.

    "I don't think we're intimidated by these guys," Houston's Bill Spiers said. "Tonight they got the big hits and we didn't. It was a fight all the way."

    Houston's lead in the NL Central dropped to two games over Cincinnati, but the Astros still have the best record (69-45) in the league.

    Braves starter John Smoltz had a chance to pick up his first win since June 18, despite giving up 11 hits in seven innings. Trailing 2-1, Atlanta rallied for two runs in the seventh on Gerald Williams' sacrifice fly and a two-out single by Chipper Jones.

    But Rudy Seanez (6-1) couldn't hold the lead in the eighth. Carl Everett led off with a double, tagged up and moved to third on a fly to right, then scored on Paul Bako's sacrifice fly.

    Center fielder Andruw Jones made a strong throw to the plate, but it was slightly up the line and Everett was able to slip past Matos with a head-first slide.

    Jones made a spectacular play in the third against Spiers to prevent a big Houston inning. Running toward the wall in the deepest part of Turner Field with his back to the plate, Jones jumped in the air and grabbed the liner a split-second before landing feet-first against the wall, his cleat prints embedded in the padding.

    The Astros still managed to go ahead 1-0 on Everett's two-out single but the lead would have been bigger if not for Jones' catch.

    Atlanta tied it up in the bottom of the third against Chris Holt. Ryan Klesko came through with his own two-out single, scoring Keith Lockhart from second.

    Smoltz, who has struggled most of the season with a sore elbow, experimented with a three-quarters motion rather than his customary overhand delivery. It seemed to work.

    "I don't have any pain," he said. "If I don't have any pain, I'll find a way to be successful."

    Still, Smoltz has suffered three losses and four no-decisions since beating Arizona with six shutout innings nearly two months ago.

    During his winless streak which included a stint on the disabled list he has struggled to a 4.07 ERA in 42 innings.


  • Williams extended his career-high hitting streak to 12 games.
  • Jose Hernandez started again at shortstop for the Braves, who are seeking to bolster their offense. Walt Weiss was used as a pinch-runner and remained in the game, while Ozzie Guillen came on as a pinch-hitter.
  • The Astros have averaged only 3.1 runs in Holt's 11 losses, compared to 5.1 in all games.
  • Matos retrieved the ball after his two-run single and plans to send it to his parents in the Bronx.

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