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Smoltz shuts down Dodgers
McCann returns to lineup
BRAVES 5 col bw
Atlanta Braves starter John Smoltz works in the first inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Friday in Atlanta. Smoltz pitched seven innings, struck out six and allowed just six hits to improve to 4-1 as the Braves won 4-0. - photo by Associated Press
    ATLANTA — John Smoltz beat the Dodgers for the first time in more than eight years, pitching seven shutout innings to lead the Atlanta Braves to a 4-0 victory over Los Angeles on Friday night in a matchup of first-place teams.
    Brian McCann returned to the lineup with a two-run double and Jeff Francoeur drove in Atlanta’s other runs with a fifth-inning single.
    That was plenty for Smoltz (4-1), who escaped a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the fourth on the way to his first win over Los Angeles since April 19, 1999. Eleven days shy of his 40th birthday, he picked up his 197th career win.
    Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano finished off the eight-hit shutout with one scoreless inning apiece, assuring the Braves of remaining at least tied for first in the NL East. They came into the night tied with the New York Mets.
    Brett Tomko (0-3) surrendered a season-high six walks and went to three balls on two other hitters in 4 2-3 innings. The Braves forced him to throw strikes and took advantage when he did, scoring all their runs with two outs.
    In the first, Edgar Renteria reached on a one-out single — extending his hitting streak to 13 games — and Chipper Jones walked. Andruw Jones popped out to bring up McCann, who missed the previous game with a sore finger after getting caught on the back of the mitt with a swing.
    McCann worked the count full, then lined an outside pitch into the left-field corner for an opposite-field double.
    Tomko loaded the bases with three walks in the fifth and couldn’t escape the mess of his own making. Sensing the pitcher would come in with a strike, Francoeur jumped on the first pitch and sent a liner toward left-center.
    Juan Pierre raced in for a diving attempt, but the ball skidded off the top of his glove as two runners raced home. Tomko’s knees buckled as he watched from the mound, and he shot a brief glance toward Pierre on the way to the dugout after getting yanked.
    Tomko has never had much success in Atlanta, dropping to 0-4 with an 8.88 ERA in five career starts at Turner Field.
    The NL West-leading Dodgers had a chance to get back in the game when they loaded the bases with three straight singles to start the fourth. But Andre Ethier popped out to shortstop, former Braves player Wilson Betemit struck out swinging and Ramon Martinez flied out to left.
    New Braves left fielder Willie Harris made a nice running catch cutting into the gap to end the threat, the second straight game that he’s helped the Braves with his defense. He made a diving catch in the ninth inning of a 4-3 win over Philadelphia on Wednesday.
    Smoltz gave up half of his six hits that inning. He also walked two, while striking out six. He has allowed three earned runs or fewer in six of his seven starts this season.
    Smoltz’s career mark against Los Angeles improved to 16-13. But he had fewer chances to beat the Dodgers while missing all of 2000 recovering from elbow surgery, then spending three-plus seasons as the closer, picking up 154 saves.

McCann stays in lineup
    Brian McCann returned to the Atlanta Braves lineup Friday night and wasted no time getting right in the middle of things.
    After sitting out one game with a sore hand, McCann drove in two runs with a first-inning double against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
    Then, in an astonishing repeat, he was called for catcher’s interference in the top of the second — the very same play that forced him out of his last game with a bruised ring finger on his left hand.
    McCann’s glove was struck by the bat of Andre Ethier, who was awarded first base after fouling the pitch off. The swing appeared to tip the webbing of McCann’s glove and not the ailing finger, which was hurt Tuesday night.
    McCann left that game after giving up a passed ball and sat out the finale of a series against the Philadelphia Phillies. He got an extra day to recover when the Braves were off Thursday.
    ‘‘It’s sore, but I can play through it,’’ he said after batting practice. ‘‘If I can help the team, I will.’’
    McCann wore an extra padding on his hand, which was previously injured about two weeks ago while trying to bunt. He said it was more painful to hit than to catch.
    ‘‘It’s one of those things when you grip the bat, you don’t feel right,’’ he said. ‘‘You know it’s going to hurt a little bit. But catching is the most important thing. I’ve got to get back to doing what I can to help the team.’’
    McCann’s backup, Brayan Pena, also was injured Tuesday when struck in the head on a backswing. He went on the 15-day disabled list with a concussion, prompting the Braves to call up 22-year-old prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia from Double-A Mississippi.

Where’s Aybar?
    The arrival of former Braves third baseman Wilson Betemit was a reminder that one of the players he was traded for is still a no-show in Atlanta.
    Willy Aybar remains on the suspended list and it’s not known if he will ever play again for Atlanta.
    ‘‘Nothing’s changed,’’ general manager John Schuerholz said.
    Asked he if has even talked with Aybar, the GM replied, ‘‘Nope.’’
    The infielder was suspended indefinitely after he failed to report two weeks ago for treatment on his sprained right hand. Aybar’s agent has indicated that his client is battling a substance abuse problem.
    Betemit was dealt to the Dodgers last season for Aybar and reliever Danys Baez. While Baez left after the season as a free agent, the Braves were counting on Aybar as a backup infielder — the same role that Betemit filled.
    Now, Atlanta may wind up with nothing to show for the deal, though Betemit has hardly been a success in Los Angeles. He came into Friday’s game batting just .132 with no homers and six RBIs.

Old School
    Chipper Jones passed time before the game whipping a couple of teammates in an old kids game.
    Jones took on Kelly Johnson and Pete Orr in ‘‘Connect Four’’ — a game that requires competing players to drop chips into a row of slots, the winner being the first one to connect four in a row vertically, horizontally or diagonally.
    Johnson was the first to take on Jones, to no avail. The third baseman won easily, quipping before his final move that he ‘‘had like five different ways to do it.’’
    Orr pushed Johnson aside and even guaranteed a victory. But Jones prevailed again and made sure to mock the infielder’s boast.
    ‘‘Did I hear ’guaranteed victory?’’’ Jones said loudly.