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Braves take series from Pads

Johnson clears bases to win it

    ATLANTA — Kelly Johnson is sure glad he didn’t take the day off.
    Johnson came through with another huge two-out hit for the Braves, a bases-loaded double in the sixth inning, and Atlanta closed a long homestand with a 5-3 victory over the San Diego Padres on Thursday.
    The first-place Braves went 7-3 during an 11-day stay at Turner Field. They look more and more like the team that won 14 straight division titles — not the one that ended the streak with a losing record last season.
    ‘‘We have a lot of confidence,’’ manager Bobby Cox said. ‘‘I don’t know if it’s swagger and all that. But we’re off to a good start, real good. This is a fun team.’’
    Johnson wasn’t even supposed to be in the lineup. The Braves planned to give him the day off against Padres left-hander David Wells, but that changed shortly before the first pitch when Edgar Renteria was scratched for the third time in four games because of a flu-like symptoms.
    The game was tied at 2 when light-hitting Chris Woodward doubled over the head of right fielder Brian Giles, putting runners at second and third with one out in the sixth. Wells struck out Craig Wilson on a checked swing, but that merely put the Braves in a spot where they’ve been at their best all season.
    Pinch-hitter Willie Harris walked to load the bases and Wells hung a breaking ball to Johnson, who lined it into the right-field corner to drive everyone home.
    The Braves have now scored a major league-leading 88 runs with two outs — more than half of their overall production.
    ‘‘I don’t think there’s any real secret to it,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘We’ve got guys who know how to bear down. It’s someone new every night.’’
    Johnson slapped his hands together after sliding into third on the throw home. He’s off to a strong start as the Braves’ new second baseman, playing well in the field and topping the regulars with a .427 on-base percentage — just what he’s expected to do in the leadoff role.
    ‘‘I’m very, very pleased,’’ said Johnson, who had never played second until this season. ‘‘I take a lot of pride in all the work I put in. It’s really paid off.’’
    After Johnson’s hit, Padres manager Bud Black strolled slowly to the mound to pull Wells (1-2), who surrendered seven hits and walked four in 5 2-3 innings.
    ‘‘You have to give them credit,’’ Black said. ‘‘They got the clutch hits when they needed them.’’
    San Diego dropped three of four in the tightly fought series. There were two one-run games, two others decided by a pair off runs.
    ‘‘It’s tough to swallow when you lose three of four, especially some that you feel you should have won,’’ Wells said.
    Tim Hudson (4-1) was staked to a 2-0 lead when the Braves put together four straight hits in the first, the last of them run-scoring singles by Andruw Jones and Jeff Francoeur. Wells didn’t surrender another hit until the sixth, while the Padres rallied to tie it up.
    Khalil Green led off the fourth with a single and came all the way home on Mike Cameron’s double to left-center. Kevin Kouzmanoff followed with another double to nearly the same spot, evening the score at 2.
    Hudson went six, scattering nine hits and working out of jams in the first and third. He got a scare in his final inning when Josh Bard lined a shot off the right-hander’s left wrist. The pitcher fell to the ground and remained down while Bard beat out the hit.
    ‘‘I knew he hit me good,’’ Hudson said. ‘‘I expected when I looked down I was going to see my wrist cracked.’’
    Instead, after a quick examination by head trainer Jeff Porter, Hudson threw a warmup toss with no problems and stayed in the game. He got Kouzmanoff to hit into a double play with his final pitch, then was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom half.
    Hudson headed to the clubhouse for precautionary X-rays, which were negative. The wrist was wrapped after the game but he should be able to make his next start.
    ‘‘It somehow found the flesh on this skinny wrist,’’ Hudson quipped.
    The Padres threatened in the seventh, closing to 5-3 on Jose Cruz Jr.’s sacrifice fly. But Chad Paronto escaped further trouble, getting Giles to hit into another inning-ending double play.
    Tyler Yates worked a scoreless eighth and Rafael Soriano pitched a perfect ninth for his fifth save in as many chances since taking over as the closer while Bob Wickman is on the disabled list.

Braves bullpen dominating
    Bob Wickman has been on the disabled list all month. The Braves haven’t missed him a bit.
    The Atlanta closer went on the DL April 30 with upper back pain, but the rest of the bullpen has easily picked up the slack. The relievers are 4-0 with six saves and a 2.03 ERA in 31 innings since Wickman went down.
    ‘‘It’s pretty impressive,’’ third baseman Chipper Jones said. ‘‘Those guys should be riding a pretty good confidence high.’’
    Wickman’s late-inning replacements have been dominant. Rafael Soriano is 5-for-5 in save opportunities, pitching six hitless innings with five strikeouts. Mike Gonzalez has a win, a save and five strikeouts in five shutout innings.
    Chad Paronto and Tyler Yates also have turned in some effective outings working out of setup roles.
    ‘‘The way the bullpen is pitching, it’s fun to watch,’’ said Tim Hudson, who got the win in Thursday’s 5-3 win over the San Diego Padres.
    Wickman is eligible to come off the DL on Tuesday.

Not so Wells
    David Wells had always pitched well against the Braves.
    Until Thursday.
    The 43-year-old Padres starter surrendered seven hits, five earned runs and four walks while losing to Atlanta for the first time in his career. He had previously given up only five earned runs in four starts vs. the Braves, going 3-0 with a 1.61 ERA.
    ‘‘I like pitching here,’’ Wells said. ‘‘I’ve always pitched well here, except for today.’’
    The Braves jumped on the left-hander for four straight hits in the first inning, grabbing a 2-0 lead. He didn’t give up another hit until the sixth, when Kelly Johnson knocked out Boomer with a three-run double.
    ‘‘It’s not like they killed me in the first inning,’’ Wells said. ‘‘I settled down and kept us in the ballgame. But it turned into a really bad start.’’

Frenchy’s base
    Jeff Francoeur’s teammates couldn’t resist taking a jab at the excitable outfielder after he stole his first base of the season in the second inning.
    Francoeur had only one stolen base in all of 2006, so he has the same amount of thefts since the start of last season as good friend Brian McCann, the Braves’ notoriously slow-running catcher.
    When Francoeur got to the clubhouse after the game, someone had left a base in his locker with this message written on it:
    ‘‘On the heels of Ricky Henderson (baseball’s career stolen base leader). This ties you with McCann.’’

This and that
    Outfielder Willie Harris didn’t start for the Braves, but he was right in the thick of things again. Sent up as a pinch-hitter in the sixth, Harris drew a walk from David Wells and wound up scoring on Johnson’s bases-loaded hit. Since being called up from Triple-A Richmond, Harris is hitting .417 with six walks, four stolen bases and an on-base percentage of .533. ... Atlanta’s June 10 game against the Chicago Cubs has been switched from 1:05 to 8:05 p.m. The later start is so the game can be televised by ESPN. ... Braves manager Bobby Cox picked up his 2,195th career win, leaving him one shy of Sparky Anderson for fourth place on the career list. The only other managers with more wins are Connie Mack, John McGraw and Tony La Russa.

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