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Francoeur comes through for Braves

Francoeur comes through for Braves

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SAN DIEGO -- Initially Jeff Francoeur thought he was going to be spending this weekend with the Double-A Mississippi club. Had plans not been altered, Greg Maddux wouldn't have objected to making what might have been his final start against the Braves without the presence of this still-maturing outfielder.

For more than a decade (1993-2003), Maddux provided the Braves nothing but consistent pitching greatness. Now as he potentially nears the final months of his playing career, the legendary right-hander faces the fact that this might have been the last time he pitched in the presence of his longtime manager Bobby Cox. If it was, Maddux left a solid last impression. But his seven solid innings weren't enough to prevent the Braves from claiming a 4-1 win over the Padres at PETCO Park on Saturday night. Adding to the multitude of bad luck that he's encountered this season came the fact that the game's decisive hit came courtesy of Francoeur's sixth-inning, bases-loaded single.

As soon as he directed this game-winning single through the left side of the infield, Francoeur admittedly felt some weight fall off his shoulders. Entering the game, he was hitting .100 (2-for-20) with the bases loaded.

"It felt good," said Francoeur, who has played four games since enduring his three-game stint with Mississippi. "I know how much I've struggled with the bases loaded this year. I've had a lot of fun since I came back. It's a lot of fun when you're doing something to help the team win."

While winning for the second time in the first five games of this road trip, the Braves moved back to within 6 1/2 games of the front-running Phillies in the National League East. But more important, this was a night that gave Charlie Morton reason for confidence heading into the All-Star break and Chipper Jones the opportunity to enjoy another of those three-hit performances that had seemed rather common just three weeks ago.

Morton, who allowed just one run and four hits in 5 1/3 innings, regained the velocity he'd lacked while dealing with a dead-arm period the past few weeks. As a result, he was able to better a legend in Maddux and at the same time win for the first time since tasting victory in his June 14 Major League debut.

"I was walking to the bullpen and I saw him walking from the bullpen and I said, 'That's Greg Maddux,'" Morton said. "That's kind of cool."

While Morton might have been starry-eyed at the sight of Maddux, Jones felt fortunate to get his swing back against his former longtime teammate, who recorded 194 of his 350 career wins with the Braves. The veteran third baseman increased his Major League-best batting average to .378 and halted the 1-for-14 skid that had started this road trip.

"I needed today," Jones said. "Today was the first day the whole trip that I've hit a ball to the outfield."

Jones' two-out sixth-inning single proved large when Mark Teixeira followed with his own single. After walking Brian McCann to load the bases, Maddux left an 0-1 fastball up in the zone and Francoeur directed it into left field.

The resulting two runs were enough to keep Maddux winless in his past 12 starts, dating to May 10. Francoeur's slump had actually been longer. This was his first hit with the bases loaded in 17 at-bats, a span that dated back to April 24.

"If I can continue to feel like this, things are going to turn around," said Francoeur, whose trip to Mississippi last week had more to do with his confidence than his swing.

While showing the incredible movement that has followed him throughout his career, Maddux limited the Braves to just three hits through the first five innings. The only damage he incurred during that span came when Brent Lillibridge began the third inning with a double, advanced to third base on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a Gregor Blanco sacrifice fly that gave the Braves their first pre-fifth inning run of this road trip.

The Braves had recorded just one hit in 49 at-bats during the first four innings of this road trip. Lillibridge's double helped halt that skid and also began a memorable two-hit night that was capped with his first career homer -- a ninth-inning solo shot off Joe Thatcher.

"He hit the heck out of it," Cox said in reference to the 392-foot homer hit by the baby-faced shortstop.

While Lillibridge is still at the beginning of his career, Maddux has said he might retire at the end of this season. But by stealing second base in the third inning, at 42 years and 89 days, he became the oldest pitcher in Major League history to steal a base. Jim Kaat had previously set the record in 1980 at the age of 41 years and 229 days.

With Edgar Gonzalez batting, Cox told Teixeira to play behind Maddux at first base. His purpose was that he'd seen Gonzalez hit some balls toward right field on Friday.

As soon as he issued this instruction, Cox said he told Tom Glavine that Maddux would steal. He was correct. But when Gonzalez lined out to Teixeira to end the inning, the skipper also proved correct with his defensive positioning.

"I knew he was going to do that. I've seen him do it too many times," Cox said. "He's a competitor. That's why he's still pitching."

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

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