Francoeur powers Braves to victory

Francoeur powers Braves to victory

ATLANTA -- It might be a little tough on his wallet, but maybe Braves manager Bobby Cox has figured something out with these Friday night ejections.

Less than two weeks into the season, Cox has been ejected from both the Friday night games his team has played. Making the resulting fines a little easier to accept is the manner in which his team has immediately responded.

Moments after earning his 118th career ejection on Friday night at Turner Field, Cox left the view of the dugout just in time to hear Jeff Francoeur rip a two-out eighth-inning homer that raced over the left-field wall and gave the Braves a 5-4 win over the Padres.

"That felt like the hardest ball I've ever hit," a still-excited Francoeur said. "Maybe it's because I haven't hit too many balls lately."

Since recording just two hits in his first 36 at-bats of the season, Francoeur has registered seven hits in his last nine at-bats. Included are three homers in the past two games. But the most memorable will certainly be the powerful line drive he drilled for the game winner.

Motivated by the raucous environment created by Cox's ejection, Francoeur got ahead of the hard-throwing Scott Linebrink with a 3-1 count. Expecting a fastball and getting it, the 22-year-old right fielder took one of his patented violent swings and watched the ball fly past the wall.

"Everybody started going crazy, and Linebrink throws real hard," Francoeur said. "So you knew he was going come after it, especially after he got behind 3-1."

During Friday's win over the Giants, Cox's ejection came during his team's eight-run seventh inning. It took the Giants 28 minutes to record an out. This Friday, it took the veteran manager's bullpen just 28 pitches to record the final seven outs.

After Tim Hudson ended a determined effort with two outs in the seventh inning, Mike Remlinger, Oscar Villarreal and Chris Reitsma teamed to hold the Padres scoreless. Villarreal's perfect eighth inning, which included two strikeouts, allowed him to notch his fourth win. Reitsma's scoreless ninth earned him his fourth save.

While the Braves' starting staff has yet to record a victory, Villarreal's four wins lead the Majors. Considering his team has just five victories, Villarreal has obviously proved vital. The last big-league pitcher to win four of his team's first 11 games was Texas' Ferguson Jenkins in 1979.

"Our bullpen has been so good lately," Cox said. "It's on a roll right now."

Such can't be said of the starting staff, which owns an 8.17 ERA. But with Hudson working into the seventh inning and allowing four runs and nine hits, they've got something to build upon. This marks just the fourth time that an Atlanta starter has lasted as many as five innings.

"It wasn't a great outing from me, but it was something to build from," said Hudson, who showed better control by issuing just two walks.

Most of the damage against Hudson came during San Diego's three-run fourth inning, which was highlighted with consecutive one-out doubles from Vinny Castilla and Mark Bellhorn. During the next three innings, Hudson surrendered just two more hits and didn't allow a runner to reach second base.

"When I made mistakes in that [fourth] inning, they didn't miss it," Hudson said. "Other than that, I felt pretty much in control. I felt my command was a lot better. It's something to build on."

San Diego's fourth-inning charge erased a 3-1 lead the Braves had gained thanks to Edgar Renteria and Ryan Langerhans, who had another sparkling defensive performance, making an over-the-shoulder catch and throwing out a runner at second base.

Renteria extended his Major League-best hitting streak to 11 games with a first-inning homer off Chan Ho Park. His one-out single in the third-inning put him in position to score on a double from Langerhans, who two batters later came around to score on a wild pitch.

"It was a great team effort," said Francoeur, whose recent surge has raised his batting average to .200.

Offensively, it was yet another solid evening for the Braves, who according to the Elias Sports Bureau have become the first team in franchise history to score four or more runs in each of the season's first 11 games.

They provided firepower long before the fans were treated to what will be a weekly Friday night postgame fireworks display. But the evening's biggest spark seemed to come when Cox came out to argue that LaRoche had beaten catcher Mike Piazza's throw to first base after striking out.

It took first-base umpire Brian O'Nora less than 30 seconds to eject Cox and consequently bring the crowd to life. The fans later erupted when Francoeur delivered.

"Bobby always fires us up," Francoeur said. "You know how the fans are with Bobby, they love him to death. When he gets going, they get going. It just seemed perfect."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.