Braves break through late to win series

Braves break through late

CHICAGO -- Having seen Jorge Sosa do everything he could to match Mark Prior, Jeff Francoeur knew it was time to do something a little different. The last time he'd attempted it, he landed in the hospital with an injury that cost him about a month's worth of baseball.

But along with being powerful, fast, graceful, quick and intelligent, the 21-year-old phenom is also fearless. Thus, he had no problem with going to the plate and beginning Wednesday afternoon's seventh inning with an attempted bunt.

Nor did he have any problems executing the bunt, which gave Rafael Furcal an opportunity to deliver his game-winning two-out single in the three-run seventh inning that the Braves used to claim a determined 3-1 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

"I thought it was a big enough moment in the game and we needed to get something going," Francoeur said. "We had kind of been dead."

Throughout most of the afternoon, a wildly effective Prior subdued the Braves, who were fortunate that Sosa was having little trouble keeping the Cubs rather quiet. After Francoeur's perfectly executed bunt, things started turning against the Cubs right-hander.

One batter later, Prior fielded a hard Ryan Langerhans sacrifice bunt and threw errantly to second base, allowing Francoeur to advance to third base. After Langerhans raced to second on a wild pitch, Furcal delivered his sharply hit game-winner which caromed off the glove of the usually sure-handed Derrek Lee and landed on the first cut of the outfield grass.

After crossing the plate, the alert Francoeur signaled for Langerhans, who had no intentions of stopping at third base, to slide to the outside part of the plate. The aggressive head-first slide enabled him to cross the plate just in front of the throw from second baseman Todd Walker.

Marcus Giles capped the three-run seventh with an eight-pitch at-bat that resulted in a run-scoring single off Prior, who threw 131 pitches. The lead provided a cushion for former Cub Kyle Farnsworth, who recorded the final four outs to get his first save with the Braves.

"I don't know if I would have wrote it up any different way," said Farnsworth, who encountered a three-ball count against four of the six batters he faced and still managed to strike out the side in the ninth.

When Farnsworth notched his three-pitch strikeout of Michael Barrett to end the game, Sosa, who allowed one run and four hits in six innings, could smile proudly and the Braves could celebrate another series victory. Chipper Jones' two-homer performance on Monday night helped them defeat Carlos Zambrano, who is arguably the Cubs' ace.

"It was a great series," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "Taking two out of three, beating Zambrano and Prior isn't an easy task to be honest with you."

Just a few days ago, it seemed much more likely to see Francoeur attempt a bunt than draw a walk. The intentional walk he drew on Sunday came in the 131st plate appearance of his career. The one he drew against Prior in the fourth inning Wednesday was, officially, the first unintentional walk of his career.

But proving yet again he's not a one-dimensional player, Francoeur chose to shadow the walk with the bunt. It was the first one he attempted since last July. When he fouled that attempt, it came up and fractured his right cheekbone. Expected to miss the rest of the season, he was back with Class A Myrtle Beach after a little more than a month.

"[This] was the first time I've even attempted it in a game since then," said Francoeur, whose two-hit performance ended a mini-slump of three consecutive hitless games.

The seventh-inning production made a winner out of Sosa, who is 6-2 with a 2.66 ERA in the 13 starts he's made this season. When he exited after the sixth inning, it looked like the only walk he had issued might prove quite costly. It was the reason the seventh inning began with the Braves trailing, 1-0.

After drawing a two-out walk from Sosa in the third inning, Matt Lawton stole second base and later scored on a Walker double. But for most of the afternoon, Sosa proved stingy. He stranded a runner on third base in both the first and third innings.

"I feel great that Bobby [Cox] has the confidence in me to give me a chance to start," said Sosa, who was moved back into the rotation when Mike Hampton went on the disabled list for the fourth time.

Cox, who had moved Sosa to the bullpen after his Aug. 12 start, was impressed that the right-hander escaped the first inning after his error had helped the Cubs get runners on first and third with nobody out. He ended that inning by getting Aramis Ramirez to ground into a double play.

"I thought Sosa maybe pitched his best game ever," Cox said.

In other words, he's earned his spot back in the starting rotation.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.