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BRAVES STAY UP TO SPEED IN HOUSTON WITHOUT DEION

Deion Sanders and the Atlanta Braves both had big games. The Braves played without Sanders, who played for the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at Washington and scored on a 99-yard kickoff return. Even without his speed in the lineup, the Braves beat Houston 9-2 at the Astrodome.

Atlanta has won nine straight to pull away in the NL West, reducing its magic number for clinching the division to 10."It's amazing that a guy can put on pads for the first time and do that," Braves catcher Greg Olson said of Sanders. "He's something special."

Atlanta won its 14th straight game in the Astrodome and became the first team to beat the Astros nine straight times at home in a single season. Atlanta leads the season series 12-3.

Winner Charlie Liebrandt (12-6) struck out seven and didn't walk a batter until the seventh when he walked three, the last forcing home Jeff Bagwell. Mike Stanton replaced Liebrandt and struck out pinch-hitter Rafael Ramirez to end the threat.

"I heard about it when I went out to warm up, and I just couldn't believe it," Leibrant said of Sanders' day. "He's an electric type football player. He's special for them and special for us."

"He (Sanders) called me at 7:30 this morning and said, `Don't be surprised if you see me highstepping down the sidelines today,' " Braves outfielder Otis Nixon said.

Ron Gant hit a three-run homer, his 13th, in the eighth off Xavier Hernandez. Francisco Cabrera hit a two-run pinch homer in the ninth.

Padres 3, Reds 1

At Jack Murphy Stadium, Gary Sheffield hit his 31st homer as San Diego beat Cincinnati in a battle for second place in the NL West.

Winner Frank Seminara (8-3) allowed one run and four hits over six innings in helping send the Reds to their 12th loss in the last 18 games. Cincinnati fell 10 1/2 games behind Atlanta in the NL West, its largest deficit of the season. The Padres trail the Braves by 11 games.

Seminara improved to 3-0 in his last five starts, interrupted by a two-week stay with Triple-A Las Vegas that resulted when the Padres activated Greg Harris from the disabled list on Aug. 22.

Phillies 6, Pirates 3

At Veterans Stadium, rookie Todd Pratt hit a controversial three-run homer to snap an eighth-inning tie for Philadelphia.

Pratt hit a 2-2 pitch from Bob Patterson (6-3) which appeared to hit the yellow line just below the left-field foul pole. The ball bounced back onto the field but was ruled a home run. Left fielder Barry Bonds and manager Jim Leyland argued for a few minutes that the ball was in play.

Dave Hollins started the rally with a one out single and moved to third when John Kruk singled, his third hit of the game. Kruk moved to second on the throw to third.

Expos 7, Mets 5

At Olympic Stadium, Larry Walker hit a three-run homer with one out in the ninth inning as Montreal beat New York to cut first-place Pittburgh's lead in the NL East to three games.

Marquis Grissom and Bret Barberie opened the inning with singles off Anthony Young (2-12), and Ivan Calderon popped out to first before Walker hit Young's first pitch to left for his 22nd homer.

Montreal relievers Bill Krueger, Kent Bottenfield and Mel Rojas held the Mets scoreless for the final 5 1/3 innings. Krueger allowed two hits in 2 1/3 innings, Bottenfield allowed a hit in two innings and Rojas (6-1) pitched a perfect ninth inning for the win.

Montreal has a three-game winning streak and New York has lost five straight.

Cardinals 10, Cubs 3

In Busch Stadium, Ray Lankford hit a grand slam, and Felix Jose had a bases-loaded triple to help Bob Tewksbury win his fifth straight decision.

The Cubs led 2-0 on homers by Rick Wilkins in the second inning and Ryne Sandberg in the fifth, before the Cardinals made it a rout with four runs in the fifth and four more in the sixth.

Tewksbury (16-5) won for the fifth time in six starts although his major league-leading ERA rose two points to 2.07. He allowed two runs on eight hits and didn't walk a batter in seven innings.

Lankford hit his 17th home run, and third in four games, off Jim Bullinger (2-5) with one out in the fifth. Jose tripled just inside the first-base line off Chuck McElroy in the sixth, then scored on Todd Zeile's ground-rule double.

Sandberg hit his 20th homer in the fifth, giving him his fifth 20-homer season.

Giants 7, Dodgers 3

At Dodger Stadium, Matt Williams sparked a three-run fifth inning with his 18th homer, and pinch-hitter Robby Thompson added a two-run double as San Francisco beat Los Angeles in what may be their last game at Dodger Stadium as intrastate rivals.

Right-hander Bill Swift (10-4) earned the victory with three innings of three-hit relief after Jeff Brantley allowed a run and two hits over four innings in his third major league start and first since Aug. 7, 1989. Rod Beck got the last four outs for his 15th save.

Bob Ojeda (6-8) failed to win for the sixth straight time.