Denver —- It was just the sort of bounce-back start the Braves needed from Derek Lowe, who resembled an ace again Friday night in a 4-1 win against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field.
Mired in one of the worst slumps of his career, Lowe snapped out of his funk by pitching six innings of four-hit ball. He had a 2-1 lead before a 52-minute rain delay ended his outing.
The Braves' bullpen, after stumbling in Thursday's 7-6 loss, came through, with Eric O'Flaherty and Rafael Soriano shutting down the Rockies over the last two innings.
"Lowe was Derek Lowe tonight," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "I think he's back to normal."
Garrett Anderson and rookie Diory Hernandez each hit a two-out, two-run double for the Braves, who evened the four-game series at one apiece and their record at 4-4 on this 10-game trip that will take them into the All-Star break.
Lowe (8-7) was charged with one walk and five strikeouts, major improvement over his recent performances.
"To be able to pitch like that in a place I've struggled, especially the way I've pitched in my last five starts, was really important," said Lowe, who had been 0-4 with an 8.61 ERA in his previous five starts, allowing 43 hits and 11 walks in just 23 innings over that dreadful stretch.
"I really wanted to go into the break with some momentum," he said. "For me, it was the most important, best start of the year, because of how I've been pitching and where the game was played."
Coors Field seemed an unlikely place for rejuvenation, considering Lowe was 2-4 in eight career starts at the park, including 0-3 with a 10.66 ERA in three for the Dodgers over the past two seasons.
He was staked to a 2-0 lead before he even threw a pitch Friday. Anderson hit a two-run, two-out double in the first inning, after singles by Martin Prado and Chipper Jones.
"[The early lead] was important to me, because I know my struggles here," Lowe said. "Then it was important for me to get through that first inning, to get that out of the way and go from there."
Lowe made a slight adjustment to his delivery this week and focused on staying straight behind the ball instead of drifting sideways, which had caused his sinker to flatten in recent starts.
He quickly added, though, that he went to the mound Friday determined to not think so much about pitching mechanics and just do his thing. Cox said he thought Lowe had gotten away from his sinker too soon in recent starts, not trusting his best pitch. Lowe agreed, and on Friday, he stayed with it.
Afer Anderson's first-inning double, Rockies starter Ubaldo Jimenez settled into a groove and allowed only three hits in the next five innings. He struck out Nate McLouth and Prado after Lowe's leadoff single in the fifth, and struck out Matt Diaz after Anderson's leadoff single in the sixth.
He was going strong, like Lowe. They seemed poised for a duel into the late innings, but rain and lightning did what neither lineup looked prepared to do: knocked both pitchers out after six innings.
The Braves added two runs in the eighth, when Brian McCann hit a leadoff double against Juan Rincon. After a Diaz walk sandwiched between strikeouts, Hernandez came through with the biggest hit of his young career, a double to right that turned a one-run lead into a 4-1 margin.
"That was big," Cox said. "Good for him. He's a great kid, and he's been doing a good job filling in for us."
Hernandez played Friday because Yunel Escobar left Thursday's game with a lower-back strain.
The Rockies got a double and single against Manny Acosta in the eighth, but lO'Flaherty bailed him out with two crowd-silencing strikeouts of Todd Helton and Brad Hawpe to strand both runners in scoring position.
"O'Flaherty saved the day again," Cox said. "Huge turning point, that inning."
Cox called O'Flaherty an unsung hero of the first half of the season, and said he's already thinking about using him as a one-inning reliever in 2010, rather than his current situational lefty role.
McCann said O'Flaherty had been "probably our most consistent player this year. He did tonight what he's done all year. He faced their two best hitters in a key situation and punched them both out."
The bullpen's failure Thursday had O'Flaherty and the others motivated to make amends Friday, particularly after Lowe pitched so well to keep the Braves in the lead.
"As a unit, we didn't get it done last night," he said. "Tonight, we had to. We had to come out and hold onto the lead for him. He came up big for us."
It was only the eighth loss in 34 games for the Rockies, who have the majors' best record since late May.
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