Vazquez, Braves nip Cubs to end skid

So this time, the Braves right-hander made sure it was enough.

Vazquez (6-7) pitched seven crisp innings, and Brian McCann drove in a pair of runs as the Braves snapped a three-game skid with a 2-1 win against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.

"Vazquez pitched a big-time game, and our bullpen was very good," said manager Bobby Cox, whose Braves moved ahead of the New York Mets into third place in the National League East, four games behind division leader Philadelphia.

It was only the second win in eight starts for Vazquez, who has three losses despite a 1.96 ERA in that stretch. The Braves scored two or fewer runs while he was in seven of those games, including this one.

"We played great defense today, that's the first thing I want to say," said Vazquez, citing shortstop Yunel Escobar, center fielder Nate McLouth, second baseman Brooks Conrad, and his catcher, McCann.

"I was pumped up by the defensive plays," added Vazquez, who allowed five singles and one run with six strikeouts and no walks against a team that had hit 16 homers while going 8-1 in its previous nine home games.

"I guess two runs were enough today. ... It feels good to win."

McCann drove in both Braves runs with a two-out single in the first and a two-out double in the third. He also sprung from behind the plate to throw out Koyie Hill in the fifth, preventing a potential leadoff hit.

McCann snapped out of a recent mini-slump by equaling, in two at-bats, his total of extra-base hits and RBIs from his previous nine games.

"There were so many good plays," McCann said. "And Javy just pitched like he's been pitching all year."

Mike Gonzalez allowed a two-out double in the eighth, and Rafael Soriano gave up a two-out single in the ninth, but each Braves reliever retired the next batter, with Escobar rifling a throw to first for a game-ending groundout.

The win was only the fifth for the Braves in 16 games against the Cubs, and first at Wrigley since 2007. They scored two runs or fewer in 11 of those 16.

Playing without Chipper Jones (strained groin), the Braves gained a game on Philadelphia and New York, which both lost.

"I think it's going to be a dogfight till the end," McCann said of race.

The Braves need to beat the Cubs again in this afternoon's series finale to notch their first road series win since May 11-13 at New York.

"We've got to do it," Vazquez said. "If we want to stay in the hunt, we've got to win games and win series."

With better run support, Vazquez could have 10 wins. Alas, he has a sub-.500 record with a sub-3.00 ERA (2.95) and 136 strikeouts, second in the NL.

"He's so deserving of an All-Star bid," McCann said. "Him and [Jair] Jurrjens both. Hopefully in the second half of the year, we can hit more for him."

Vazquez, who used to pitch for the crosstown-rival White Sox, had a 2-3 record in 11 starts at Wrigley before Tuesday and hadn't won at the park since 2002.

The Cubs got two singles to start the second inning, but Vazquez limited the damage to one run on Hill's two-out single before striking out Carlos Zambrano (4-4), one of baseball's best-hitting pitchers.

Vazquez settled into a good groove at that point, retiring 13 of 14 batters.

Zambrano worked on short rest in place of Ryan Dempster, who went on the disabled list with a broken toe. Zambrano had been scheduled to start Wednesday.

The Braves didn't know of the switch until 3-1/2 hours before the game. Not that they were too upset about the change: Zambrano hasn't beaten them in nearly seven years, going 0-3 with a 5.11 ERA in his past nine starts against them.

"Big Z" pitched well (six innings, two runs) Tuesday. Vazquez pitched better.

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