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Sammons leads Braves over Cards

Sammons leads Braves over Cards

ATLANTA -- It's been nearly three full years since Mike Hampton recorded a Major League victory. The way this week has gone, there was reason to wonder if it had been equally as long for the Braves.

But while constructing a 9-4 win over the Cardinals at Turner Field on Thursday night, the Braves put their recent past behind them and were reminded that Clint Sammons might have a very bright future. The young catcher from suburban Atlanta treated the hometown crowd with a career-best three-hit performance that included his first career homer.

"I think that's the best ball I've hit all year," said Sammons of the decisive sixth-inning two-run homer he hit off Joel Pineiro. "I picked the perfect stage to do it on."

Sammons, who grew up in suburban Atlanta and was Jeff Francoeur's quarterback at Parkview High School, nearly picked the perfect time to deliver this memorable milestone homer. Had it come one inning earlier, Hampton might have earned his first win since Aug. 14, 2005.

But the fact that it came with friends and family members in the stands and in the midst of his team's miserable five-day stretch, Sammons certainly picked an opportune time to drill Pineiro's 1-1 slider over the left-center-field wall. The blast gave provided a lead that was actually preserved by the Braves' bullpen, which had posted an 11.44 ERA during the previous five games.

"I feel like I got around [the bases] too quick," said Sammons, who had hit just one homer in 81 games with Triple-A Richmond this year. "I was trying to hold the smile in. It didn't seem like the right time to be smiling."

There hadn't been many reasons for the Braves to smile recently. Over the previous five days, they'd squandered two sizeable leads in losses to the Phillies, placed Chipper Jones on the disabled list, found out Tim Hudson is likely destined for Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery and seen All-Star catcher Brian McCann suffer a slight concussion during a collision at the plate.

If searching deep to find the positives during this span, McCann's injury opened the door for Sammons to be called to the Majors, and Hampton has proven capable of staying healthy during two full starts. At the same time, Omar Infante, who enjoyed a three-hit night to prevent the Cardinals from claiming a sweep, has provided consistent offense and a solid glove in place of Jones at third base.

While Hampton might not yet be the hurler that he was before missing the past two seasons while recovering from separate surgical procedures on his left elbow, the 35-year-old southpaw is steadily gaining confidence that he can once again be successful at the Major League level. He overcame potential first-inning disaster and ended up allowing the Cardinals four earned runs and seven hits in five innings.

Both Braves manager Bobby Cox and Hampton said this effort was better than the one he provided in Philadelphia on Saturday, while making his first Major League start since Aug. 19, 2005.

"I know it's going to take a little time," Hampton said. "I was a little more comfortable this time. ... I felt like I got better as [the game] went on."

During Saturday's contest, Hampton carried a 9-3 lead into the fifth inning and was chased after allowing three consecutive singles. He believes he was somewhat affected by the fact that he had run the bases during the nine-run fourth inning the Braves produced against Cole Hamels.

Proving his endurance is improving, Hampton didn't encounter as much trouble on Thursday night after producing a second-inning RBI double and fourth-inning fielder's choice that produced another run. The Cardinals began the fifth inning with consecutive singles. But Albert Pujols, who had a first-inning two-run double, then aided the veteran southpaw by grounding into a double play.

Ryan Ludwick's game-tying fifth-inning RBI single prevented Hampton from earning the win. But the veteran hurler, who is still building arm strength and trying to find consistency with his control, did at least satisfy his manager.

"Hampton, I'm sure, is not thrilled with how he did," Cox said. "But for the second time out in three years, it wasn't bad."

After watching his bullpen struggle over the previous five games, Cox was obviously pleased to see Jeff Bennett, Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez combine for four scoreless innings. Providing the most encouragement was the fact that Soriano, who has missed most of this season with an ailing right elbow, finally seemed willing to throw with some force.

While his fastball wasn't clocking 96 mph like it has in the past, Soriano at least seemed more willing to throw his fastball. In his previous three appearances since coming off the disabled list, he seemed more intent on throwing sliders.

"He's not back to where he was," Cox said. "But it sure looked good."

Most importantly, Cox was finally able to leave a stadium feeling good again.

"You can tell that the morale is definitely up in here," Sammons said.

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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