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Braves win third straight -- thanks to Heyward, once again

Photo by Gregory Smith

Photo by Gregory Smith

ATLANTA -- Jason Heyward knows the Atlanta Braves can't dwell on their three-game sweep of slumping Houston.

Heyward said the Braves, like the Astros, "are still in last place and still have some work to do."

Heyward and Melky Cabrera each drove in three runs and the Braves beat Houston 7-1 on Sunday, handing the Astros their sixth straight loss.

"Let's keep it going," Heyward said.

Heyward, the rookie sensation who had homers in three straight games before Sunday, had two hits. He ranks among the NL leaders with seven homers and 23 RBIs and has demonstrated a flair for key hits in his first month in the major leagues.

"I think what makes it most impressive is when he gets his hits and RBIs," Braves starter Derek Lowe said. "You know it's not by accident he's having the success he's having."

The Braves outscored the Astros 21-4 in their first three-game sweep of Houston since 2003. The modest winning streak followed nine straight losses, Atlanta's longest skid in almost four years. The losing streak was capped by an 0-7 road trip.

"We needed to get on track, we needed to get back to winning games," said Braves catcher Brian McCann, who scored two runs. "That road trip wasn't us. We need to make sure it was just a bump in the road.

"This was a big series for us. Big, big series."

The Braves begin a nine-game road trip at Washington on Tuesday.

Heyward gave Atlanta a 1-0 lead in the second with a sacrifice fly to deep right field. He had a run-scoring double in the Braves' three-run fourth inning off Bud Norris and drove in another run with a bases-loaded infield single in the three-run fifth.

"Jason just keeps going," said Atlanta manager Bobby Cox, who said the sweep helped "a lot."

"We needed some wins," he explained. "We needed to get a streak going. We never gave up on ourselves. We got in a mess by ourselves and we have to get out of it by ourselves."

Lowe (4-2) snapped his two-game losing streak, giving up six hits and one run with a walk and three strikeouts in five innings. He allowed at least one hit in every inning and gave up his only run on back-to-back doubles by Michael Bourn and Jeff Keppinger in the fifth.

Lowe said his performance was "nothing great, but good enough to win."

Norris (1-3), making his first career start against Atlanta, gave up a career-high seven runs on eight hits and four walks in 4 2-3 innings. He has two losses during the team's six-game skid.

"It's very frustrating," Norris said. "We have to get over it. It's not about what's happening today. It's tomorrow. We have to look to tomorrow. We have to get home and get on a winning streak."

The Astros held a team meeting after Saturday's 10-1 loss. Manager Brad Mills said Sunday he "just wanted to kind of tighten things up a little bit."

Mills tweaked his lineup Sunday. Carlos Lee, normally the cleanup hitter, swapped spots with Lance Berkman and batted third. Four players -- Lee, Keppinger, Bourn and Kaz Matsui -- each had two hits, but the Astros left two runners on base in the first, third and seventh innings.

"We can't seem to get that timely inning," Mills said. "They just don't seem to come.

"Hopefully, we can learn from this and move on."

Heyward's sacrifice fly in the second drove in McCann, who walked. McCann led off the fourth with a single, moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on Heyward's double. Cabrera and Omar Infante added run-scoring singles for a 4-0 lead.

Kris Medlen followed Lowe with two scoreless innings. Takashi Saito and Billy Wagner each pitched one shutout inning.

Chipper Jones was 0 for 3 with a walk, leaving him hitless in 14 at-bats. He is hitting .206.

The Braves were without shortstop Yunel Escobar for the third straight game due to a strained left adductor. When asked if Escobar is close to returning, Cox said: "I don't think real close."

NOTES: Mills said RHP Samuel Gervacio, who left Saturday's game with a right shoulder strain, was "a little tender" on Sunday. Mills said Gervacio, who spent 17 days on the disabled list early in the season with a strained right shoulder, will be examined by team doctors Monday if he's unable to throw without pain. ... Houston SS Tommy Manzella was held out for the second straight day after a grounder hit him in the throat Friday night.