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Bradley’s Homer Helps Beat Braves

Times Staff Writer

Let the head scratching commence ... again.

Long left for dead on the side of the road to the National League West crown, the Dodgers keep crawling along. Even when all the logic in the world says the defending division champs, who are 10 games under .500 with 42 games to go, should have given up long ago.

Beating the pitching-rich Atlanta Braves, 7-4, on Thursday night to win the rubber match of the series with lights-out pitching of your own will flip the script.

Consider: The Dodgers began the series with the Braves having lost 10 more road games than they had won. And Atlanta had the best home record in baseball.

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But after taking two of three from the Braves, the third-place Dodgers (55-65) are only four games behind the wheel-spinning San Diego Padres heading into this weekend’s four-game set in Florida.

“We’re very much in the race,” Manager Jim Tracy said. “And the last three series or so, we’re playing like we really want to be in the race.”

Thursday at Turner Field, it began with Dodger starter Jeff Weaver, continued with stellar relief pitching from Elmer Dessens and Giovanni Carrara and ended with closer-for-the-time-being Duaner Sanchez.

Being staked to a 7-1 lead in the fourth inning -- the big blow a three-run home run by Milton Bradley -- gave Weaver wiggle room.

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In fact, after Weaver surrendered three runs in the sixth, he combined with Dessens, Carrara and Sanchez to retire 11 straight Atlanta hitters, Sanchez’s getting his second save in his second opportunity.

Weaver’s formula for the Braves, a team he is 4-0 against in five starts?

“Score a lot of runs and hope for the best,” he said with a shrug after improving to 11-8 on the season, scattering 10 hits over six innings and giving up four runs, three earned. “Naw, I had to pitch out of a lot of jams. Luckily, I got out of it.”

He almost didn’t in the sixth, when Andruw Jones’ major league-leading 39th homer, a towering two-run shot to left, preceded Adam LaRoche’s line-drive homer to right.

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“We’ve got to keep doing this -- winning two of three, keep putting pressure on the other guys in the division,” Weaver said.

The Dodgers started applying pressure to the Braves in the first when Olmedo Saenz’s two-out, two-run double into the left-center gap scored Bradley and Jeff Kent.

After the Braves got within one in the second -- Brian McCann’s single to right drove in LaRoche -- the Dodgers chased starter John Thomson (3-3) with a five-run fourth, the right-hander’s final pitch hit for a two-out, three-run homer by Bradley.

After Jayson Werth led off with a walk, Jose Cruz Jr., acquired in an Aug. 9 trade with Boston, ended an 0-for-11 start with the Dodgers with a single to right.

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Dioner Navarro’s base hit up the middle drove in Werth before Weaver’s bunt dropped for a base hit to load the bases. With one out, Oscar Robles’ fly to center scored Cruz.

Up stepped Bradley, who jumped on Thomson’s first offering and sent it 416 feet down the right-field line for his 13th home run of the season.

“It was a change-up; I can’t hit fastballs no more,” Bradley said with a laugh. “I’ve been seeing so much junk my timing’s all off.”

The Dodgers’ time to make a move in the West is here.

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“We’re moving in the right direction,” Bradley said. “Our division, we usually beat up on them. We can see the finish line. We know we’re very capable of winning this division. To not do that would be a shame.”

And yes, Bradley was scratching his head when he said it.


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