07/13/2003 11:07 PM ET
Braves rout Cubs for series win
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- As Braves manager Bobby Cox sat in his office hours before his team's final pre-All-Star break contest, he indicated that the first half of the season had been fun, but would be best capped off with one more victory.
After watching his offense prove advantageous once again and Shane Reynolds produce his second consecutive solid start in the Braves' 7-2 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Sunday night, Cox was able to take another puff on his victory cigar and head back to Atlanta a happy man.
"That's a real good way to head into the break," Cox said. "[We got] a real good pitched game and some good hitting."
Cox's troops, who have won nine of their past 10, head into the break with the best record (61-32) in the Majors. Since winning just four of their first 12 games this season, the Braves have evolved into what might be the best team this franchise has had since winning their first of 11 consecutive division titles in 1991.
"You look at our offense and I feel like we're going to score enough runs to win every night," Gary Sheffield said. "Even if we don't pitch well, we're going to score enough runs."
It wasn't too long ago that it seemed like Reynolds was always avoiding losses with the benefit of an extraordinary offensive effort. That added with some struggles he endured in late June and early July had some wondering if the Braves needed to look elsewhere for pitching.
"I'm sure he's read the papers and seen people say we need starting pitching," Robert Fick said. "But right now I think he's proving what he can do. He's throwing the ball like he can. I know everybody on our team wants him out there."
When it was learned that Paul Byrd would be lost for the season, the Braves went out and signed the veteran Reynolds, who spent the first two weeks of the season auditioning for a job. All and all, he's proven to be rather valuable for a team that witnessed the departure of three starters during the offseason.
"I still can't say enough about our defense and offense," Reynolds said. "It's been there for us the whole first half."
Reynolds (7-4) won his second consecutive game by limiting the Cubs to one unearned run on seven hits in six innings. Since failing to last at least five innings in three consecutive starts, he has gone 2-1 (three starts) with a 2.53 ERA and regained the confidence in his patented sinker that has always made him so effective.
"My thinking now is that I can throw this at any time in the count and get outs," Reynolds said. "Confidence is such a big part of pitching."
Braves second baseman Mark DeRosa's error on a Tom Goodwin, two-out grounder in the third inning led to the Cubs' only run off Reynolds. Goodwin, the Cubs' speedy centerfielder, raced to second on the play and later scored on a Sammy Sosa infield single that Rafael Furcal fielded and should have kept instead of throwing to first base.
"[Reynolds] was mixing it up and really keeping them off balance," Cox said. "He's a tough guy and it looks like he's ready to roll."
While Reynolds was cruising, Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano was struggling against a Braves offense that has scored six runs or more in seven of their past 10 games. The 22-year-old right-hander, who had limited Atlanta to two earned runs in 12 innings last year, was touched for a season-high seven earned runs on eight hits in five innings.
"This lineup is something special," Vinny Castilla said. "From one through eight [in the lineup], everybody can hurt you."
Five Braves offensive players were selected to play in Tuesday's All-Star Game. But it has been the production from non-All-Stars like Castilla and Fick who kept this lineup rolling this week.
While winning six of seven games on this just-completed road trip, the Braves saw 34 of their 49 RBIs come from players who won't be participating in the Midsummer Classic. Castilla, who has 14 hits in his past 24 at-bats, had 13 RBIs in the past six games, which is three more than he hit in the entire month of June.
"Like I've been telling you, I'm feeling great at the plate right now," Castilla said. "I want to keep rolling and hopefully I can stay this way."
Castilla had a two-out, run-scoring single in the Braves' two-run fourth and another RBI single in the five-run sixth that began with back-to-back walks to Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones and included a Fick two-run double.
A couple of the Braves All-Stars also had productive evenings as Javy Lopez had his seventh three-hit game of the season and Furcal, who has just five hits in his past 33 at-bats, capped the Braves' productive sixth inning with a two-out, two-run single.
"We had some key hits," Cox said. "Fick had a big hit, Vinny and Raffy [Furcal] too. Two-out hits are big."
They are also the things that will allow a manager to head into the break, with the satisfaction of knowing his team is something special.
"As long as you're in first place, you're happy," Cox said. "It's been great. It's been fun."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.