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Avery Does It All as Braves Beat Dodgers : Baseball: Pitcher doubles and scores as Atlanta pulls within 2 1/2 games of the Giants atop the NL West, 1-0.


The Atlanta Braves usually win behind Steve Avery--they provide him with the runs he needs; he throws the pitches nobody can hit. In Avery's previous 24 starts, the Braves were 22-2.

But Tuesday night, Avery was facing the Dodgers, whose pitching staff owns the second-best earned-run average in baseball--behind the Braves, of course. And when these two clubs meet, neither team scores much. In eight of their 12 meetings, the outcome has been decided by two runs or fewer.

So in the eighth inning of a scoreless game at Dodger Stadium, Avery took the bat into his own hands, doubling over the center-field wall and eventually scoring on a single by Jeff Blauser as the Braves beat the Dodgers, 1-0.

"I hit it hard, and most pitchers would have only got to first," Avery joked, "but with my wheels I got to second."

The victory moved the Braves to within 2 1/2 games of the San Francisco Giants in the National League West and gave Avery (16-4) his seventh victory in his last eight decisions.

The Dodgers were held to six hits by Avery and none by Greg McMichael, who pitched a perfect ninth inning for his 14th save.

But the Braves hadn't fared much better against Pedro Astacio (11-8), who held them to the one run and four hits through 7 1/3 innings.

Astacio, who left the game in the hands of Pedro Martinez in the eighth inning with runners on first and second, ran off the field to a standing ovation from 31,577.

In his last eight starts, Astacio has an ERA of 2.30. If only Astacio hadn't thrown that fastball to Avery. . . . If only Manager Bobby Cox hadn't left Avery in to bat with one out in the eighth inning. . . .

"(Cox) asked me how I felt, and I said fine," Avery said. "I guess I made him look smart, but that's how it's been on this club all year. I hit a fastball down the middle--it was one of the few bad pitches that was thrown all night."

It was Avery's fourth double of the season, and Cox said there was never a question of taking him out of a scoreless game.

"Steve Avery is something special," Cox said. "He is a good hitter, he has good speed and he works hard at it."

It is the second consecutive one-run game between these two teams. With the Braves' ERA at 3.14 and the Dodgers' at 3.37, there hasn't been much room for hitting. Martinez, in his second consecutive strong outing, held the Braves to one hit in 1 2/3 innings. He has given up only two hits in 3 2/3 innings this series to lower his ERA to 2.43.

"The Dodgers' pitching staff is on a roll," Cox said. "It's a great win by not much offense; it's a rally started by a pitcher."

Avery worked out of jams in the sixth and eighth innings, each time stranding Brett Butler at third.

Avery took control at the plate in the eighth, doubling over Butler's head. Otis Nixon followed with a check-swing that Piazza threw in the dirt to first, moving Avery to third before he scored on Blauser's drive to center.

"We are trying to make it tough on them, but Avery pitched a tough ballgame," Tim Wallach said.

"We are not getting caught up in who wins, but we want to have something to do with the division championship."

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