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Updated: Wednesday, September 22, 2004 12:04 AM EDT
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ATLANTA (Ticker) -- John Thomson keeps winning and Julio Franco keeps hitting.

Thomson struck out a season-high nine as he won his fourth straight decision and Franco had three hits and an RBI as the Braves held on for a 5-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds .

The Braves (89-62) inched closer to their 13th straight division title, reducing their magic number for clinching the National League East to three.

"Our magic number is down to three. It's fun, I enjoy it because it makes it more interesting when I go out to pitch," Thomson said.

Thomson (13-8) allowed one run, five hits and one walk in seven innings.

"I threw my changeup early in the game. That kind of puts something in their heads," he said. "As the game went on, I started using more curveballs, something that's 12 or 13 miles per hour off my fastball. That's kind of hard to start cheating."

Another pitcher who has flourished under pitching coach Leo Mazzone, the righthander is 7-1 since the All-Star break.

"The guy's a great pitcher," said Reds catcher Jason LaRue , who had two hits. "He's got four great pitches. I was just fortunate to get a few fastballs in the zone and get a few hits."

"He's been a great addition, coming in and filling a guy like (Greg) Maddux's shoes pretty well, and those are pretty big shoes to fill," Braves infielder Marcus Giles said. "He's done a great job."

Thomson departed with a 5-1 lead thanks to Franco, the 45-year-old hitting machine. He singled and scored in the third and singled in a run in the fourth as he raised his average to .301.

The former batting champion pushed his career hit total to 2,447 as he moved past both Dwight Evans and Mark Grace .

"I'm in very good company," said Franco, who is two shy of Red Schoendienst for 90th place. "I'm happy that I'm getting the opportunity to continue to play and reach those goals that I've set."

The Braves nearly gave this one away as Chris Reitsma allowed two runs in the eighth and closer John Smoltz gave up a run in the ninth. He struck out Felipe Lopez with the tying run on second to wrap up his 40th save this season and 150th career.

Rafael Furcal , Eli Marrero and Eddie Perez each had two hits and an RBI for the Braves, who collected 12 hits and improved to 20-9 all-time vs. the Reds at Turner Field.

The Reds (68-82) assured themselves of their fourth straight season below .500. They also lost slugging outfielder Wily Mo Pena to a strained right hamstring in the seventh inning. Pena will return to Cincinnati on Wednesday.

"Before the base, I felt like a little pop - not a big one, but a little one," Pena said.

Cincinnati's Brandon Claussen (2-6) lost his third straight start, giving up three runs, seven hits and four walks in four innings.

"They got to him quickly," Reds manager Dave Miley said. "He's like a click away. He gets a lot of two-strike counts and falls a little short of completely putting them away. It's a matter of putting quality pitches back-to-back."

The Braves scored twice in the seventh when Marrero doubled home a run and eventually came home on a sacrifice fly by pinch hitter Mark DeRosa .

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