Jaret Wright stayed undefeated in July and Johnny Estrada homered to lead the Atlanta Braves past visiting New York, 8-0, last night to spoil the Mets debut of Kris Benson.
The Mets acquired Benson from Pittsburgh on Friday, hoping he would solidify their rotation. Pitching against the Braves for a third straight start, Benson (8-9) lasted only five innings and lost for the second time in a row.
The Braves tagged him for seven runs on seven hits as the Mets lost for the 13th time in their past 18 games, and fell eight games behind Atlanta in the NL East.
"They definitely had my number," Benson said. "That's the first time that's happened to me this season, where I didn't really feel all that comfortable."
Wright (9-5) allowed three hits in seven innings, and improved to 4-0 this month -- joining teammates Russ Ortiz (5-0) and Mike Hampton (5-0) with unbeaten records in the month. Since falling to 2-5 in a loss to the Dodgers on May 22, Wright has won seven straight with a 2.29 ERA in 13 starts.
Wright, a onetime phenom with the Cleveland Indians who started Game 7 of the 1997 World Series as a 21-year-old, used to have only two thoughts on the mound -- throw the ball hard or throw it harder.
That was before the shoulder troubles robbed him of the ability to do that. Although he still can reach the mid-nineties with his fastball, he realizes he doesn't need to.
"The biggest difference is now I want them to hit it," Wright said. "I want them to put it in play. When you're younger, you kind of fear contact, because the command isn't there.
"Now, I realize you can't always throw it at 120 percent -- not if you want to pitch for a while," said Wright, who has had two shoulder surgeries.
* ASTROS 2-8, REDS 3-0: Darren Oliver pitched five stingy innings in his first start for Houston, setting up the Astros' victory over the Reds that finished off a long day in Cincinnati.
It started with the Reds winning, 3-2, in 13 innings on an RBI double by Jason LaRue, completing a game suspended overnight because of rain.
Oliver, acquired from Florida on July 22, and three relievers combined on a four-hitter, and Carlos Beltran and Mike Lamb homered in a six-run ninth in the regularly scheduled game.
* PHILLIES 4, CUBS 3: Mike Lieberthal and Bobby Abreu each hit two-run homers following Chicago errors, helping visiting Philadelphia end a five-game losing streak.
Kevin Millwood (9-6) worked 62/3 innings for the win, allowing three runs -- two earned -- and three hits while striking out eight and walking three. Tim Worrell posted his 11th save.
* PADRES 3, DODGERS 2: Phil Nevin singled home the go-ahead run in the eighth inning for host San Diego. Jay Payton and Mark Loretta also drove in runs for the Padres, who overcame a home run by Los Angeles pitcher Kazuhisa Ishii and pulled within 21/2 games of the first-place Dodgers in the NL West.
* PIRATES 4, BREWERS 1: In Milwaukee, Ryan Vogelsong gave up one run and three hits over five innings to lead Pittsburgh.
Vogelsong (3-7), in his first start since June 23, struck out four and walked one. He also doubled in a run in the Pirates' three-run second inning.
* EXPOS 8, MARLINS 5: Terrmel Sledge hit his first career grand slam after Paul Lo Duca hit a two-run homer in his first at-bat for Florida, leading Montreal to a win in Miami.
Lo Duca, acquired from Los Angeles on Friday, arrived in the fifth inning and delivered a pinch-hit homer an inning later to give Florida a 5-4 lead.
In the seventh, the Expos loaded the bases for Sledge, who hit Josias Manzanillo's first pitch over the wall in right.
* ROCKIES 8, DIAMONDBACKS 4: Shawn Estes (11-4) pitched six solid innings, and host Colorado took advantage of Arizona's shoddy defense in a five-run sixth. The Diamondbacks made three errors in losing for the 15th time in 17 games.
* GIANTS 8, CARDINALS 7: Ray Durham's three-run triple keyed an eight-run first inning for San Francisco off Matt Morris who lasted 2/3 of an inning, and the Giants held off a late rally to win at home.