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Braves stifle Cubs
Kawakami pitches past Chicago

CHICAGO - Kenshin Kawakami wasn't completely satisfied with one of his best major league outings.

His old teammate had something to do with that.

The 34-year-old rookie allowed only four hits over six innings Wednesday in helping the Atlanta Braves to a 4-1 victory over Chicago.

It was just the second time this season Kawakami (5-6) gave up one run or fewer while pitching at least six innings. The run came on a sixth-inning homer by Kosuke Fukudome, whom he played with for nine years with the Chunichi Dragons of Japan's Central League.

'He might have taken half of my happiness today,' a laughing Kawakami said.

The other half of Kawakami's happiness was preserved by shortstop Yunel Escobar, whose spectacular diving grab of a line drive off Fukudome's bat kept Atlanta ahead 2-1 in the eighth.

'His range is as good as it gets and his arm is awesome,' Braves catcher Brian McCann said of Escobar, who made several outstanding plays in the three-game series. 'That play he made today saved the game maybe.'

The Cubs then gave away two runs in the ninth - one on center fielder Fukudome's first error of the year and another on Kevin Gregg's wild pitch - as fans booed the home team.

It was all part of another frustrating day for the Cubs, whose offensive woes left manager Lou Piniella searching for words.

'Frustrating? Look ... what else can I say?' he said. 'There's nothing else to say, there really isn't. You've just got to swing the bats better if we're going to do anything the rest of the year, and that's really the bottom line.

'I said it before the ballgame. I get asked the same questions every day - every day, you know? I think what you need to do is go ask the players why they're not hitting instead of asking me,' Piniella added. 'They can probably give you much better insight.'

Not really. The players also were wondering why a team that led the NL in runs last season is ranked 15th this year.

'The fact of the matter is we just didn't hit,' said Ryan Theriot, who had two of Chicago's six hits. 'That's baseball. I just think that's the way it is. You're not going to score a ton of runs every game.'

Piniella would settle for something similar to the first 35 games, when the Cubs averaged 5.06 runs while going 21-14. Since then, the average has dipped to 3.43 runs and their record has slumped to 20-27. They have been held to one run or fewer 15 times during the 47-game slide.

Asked if he believed the offense would come alive, Theriot said: 'Yeah, I think so. I hope so. I don't think you've seen our best for sure. I hope we do.'

Several teammates echoed those sentiments and chose to give credit to Kawakami, who left after six innings with minor shoulder soreness.

'I don't think it was something bad because he was throwing the ball so well,' manager Bobby Cox said. 'It's something he was battling a little bit. But there weren't many balls squared up on him.'

Casey Kotchman homered and Martin Prado had an RBI single for the Braves, who won a road series for the first time in nearly two months. After going 0-6 against the Cubs in 2008, Atlanta won this season's series 4-2.

Peter Moylan, Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano each worked a scoreless inning of relief. Soriano earned his 10th save.

Kevin Hart (0-1) was the latest Cubs starter done in by the team's offensive shortcomings. Making his first big league start as a fill-in for injured Ryan Dempster, Hart allowed only one run on four hits over five innings.