ATLANTA - On "Christmas in July" night at Turner Field, Parkview grad Jeff Francoeur gave the announced crowd of 44,041 a dramatic treat.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, the right fielder hit a bases-loaded single up the middle to lift the Braves to a 5-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. As he stepped on first base, Francoeur clapped his hands together and was immediately mobbed by his teammates.
The Braves (49-42) won their third game in a row and sixth in their last seven games. They remained 11⁄2 games behind the first-place New York Mets in the National League East.
The Pirates had rallied from a four-run deficit in the seventh. But with the game tied at 4 in the bottom of the ninth, Willie Harris led off with a single that bounced high off the foot of pitcher Shawn Chacon. Yunel Escobar laid down a sac bunt to move Harris to second.
After Edgar Renteria popped out to short, the Pirates intentionally walked Chipper Jones to set up a potential double play.
With Andruw Jones up, Chacon threw a wild pitch that allowed the runners to advance to second and third. He then walked Jones to load the bases for Francoeur.
Francoeur drove a 2-1 pitch up the middle, Harris crossed home plate and the game was over.
Braves starter Chuck James was denied a win, but pitched well against the team he flirted with no-hitting in May. James allowed just two hits in six scoreless innings. And, as in his May 12 masterpiece against Pittsburgh, he benefited from some early run support.
Yunel Escobar and Edgar Renteria led off the bottom of the first with consecutive singles. And Escobar scored from third on a wild pitch by Pirates starter Tom Gorzelanny.
After Chipper Jones struck out, Andruw Jones came up as camera lights flickered throughout the stands. Jones has been hot lately - a rarity in what has been an awful 2007 season - so perhaps fans wanted to capture the moment.
The image Jones gave them was a keeper. With a full count, the centerfielder hit a high breaking ball from Gorzelanny into the right-field seats. The two-run shot gave the Braves a 3-0 lead and marked Jones's second straight game with a homer.
Atlanta got production from the top of its order again in the third inning, loading the bases for Francoeur. And Francoeur drove in a run with a sac fly to right.
James kept the lead intact through six innings, and left before the seventh after 92 pitches. He struck out four and walked three.
The bullpen did not fare as well. Tyler Yates entered in relief for the Braves in the seventh, and allowed a walk and a single before one run scored on a throwing error by Chipper Jones.
Then, with two runners on base, manager Bobby Cox pulled Yates and brought in Rafael Soriano to face pinch hitter Ryan Doumit.
Doumit worked the count full on Soriano, then hit a three-run homer to right center, tying the game at 4.
Heavy rain halted the game before the bottom of the seventh, and it took an hour and 12 minutes for play to resume.
The Braves threatened to re-take the lead in the bottom of the eighth. Chipper Jones singled, and Francoeur and Kelly Johnson drew back-to-back walks to load the bases with one out. But Brian McCann popped out, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia struck out looking to end the inning.
With one out in the top of the ninth, Pirates third baseman Jose Castillo reached first on a fielding error by closer Bob Wickman. But Wickman got a strikeout and a groundout to preserve the tie.