Braves drop finale in 14th inning
Diaz hits game-tying homer in 12th, but club falters in 14th
ATLANTA -- While watching an injured Edgar Renteria being escorted off the field in the eighth inning at Turner Field on Thursday night, the Braves had legitimate reason to fear the potential long-term effect.
Little did they know, the short-term consequences proceeded to produce their zaniest evening of the season and a frustrating loss that will prove to be even more costly if Renteria's right ankle and sore back keep him out for an elongated period.
When Renteria exited, the Braves held a seemingly comfortable four-run lead. But the time the wee hours of Friday morning had arrived, they were fighting the frustrations of a 12-11, 14-inning loss to the Astros, who saw their game-winning hit supplied by much-maligned starting pitcher Jason Jennings.
"It was a pretty crazy game," said Matt Diaz, who kept the Braves hopes alive with his game-tying two-run homer off Brad Lidge in the 12th inning. "You think you have it all under control. Then Edgar makes a great play, knocks the ball down and then you're like 'why isn't he getting up to throw it? And then he can't walk. That wasn't even the start of the wackiness."
Jennings' single through the right side of the infield saddled a loss on Oscar Villarreal, who recorded his first hit in 14 career at-bats with a two-out, 13th-inning single. But it would be much more fitting to pin this loss on Rafael Soriano, who wasted a four-run lead by surrendering a game-tying eighth-inning grand slam to Mike Lamb.
"[Soriano] made one bad pitch, and Lamb can do that," Braves manager Bobby Cox said of Lamb, who has accounted for two of the seven grand slams the Astros have hit this year.
Instead of using Lamb's name in that sentence, Cox could have used Soriano's. The Braves have lost five of the six extra-inning games they've played in a 15-game span. Soriano has blown saves courtesy of homers he's surrendered in three of those games.
"Battling all the way back, battling back and then losing, it stinks," Diaz said. "But we just won two out of three [against the Astros]. We've been struggling at home. So maybe it will be the start of a good homestand."
Unfortunately Renteria will likely miss the remainder of the homestand. The veteran shortstop, who is hitting .336, sprained his ankle and tweaked his back when Ty Wigginton's sharp eighth-inning grounder knocked him backwards.
"He's going to miss some games," Cox said, while saying he hopes Renteria doesn't have to go on the disabled list.
With Renteria painfully hobbling toward the clubhouse with trainer Jeff Porter's assistance and many of his bench players already used because of the five-run deficit Jo-Jo Reyes created in his three-inning effort, Cox was forced to put Chipper Jones at shortstop for the first time since 2000 and Willie Harris at third base for just the second time in his Major League career.
Before he could get his bearings, Harris, who minus two previous innings has been used exclusively as an outfielder this year, found himself unable to secure Jason Lane's grounder. This loaded the bases and set the stage for Lamb to crush a 1-1 pitch over the center-field wall.
"You've got to look at the positives," said newly acquired first baseman Mark Teixeira, who has homered in the first two games of his Braves career. "We battled and scored some runs. Somebody had to lose it."
After Reyes surrendered two homers in Houston's five-run third inning, the Braves began inching back against Astros starter Woody Williams. Teixeira's two-run fourth-inning homer tied the game and Harris's two-out, two-run triple provided a lead that was maintained until the wacky eighth.
As all the madness ensued, Reyes' could only watch with frustration and then face the reality that he's heading back to Triple-A Richmond. The 8.72 ERA compiled in five starts by the 22-year-old certainly played a factor in his demotion. But so too did the fact that the Braves were forced to utilize their entire bullpen, including three relievers for at least two innings during this loss.
Ron Mahay, who was acquired with Teixeira from Texas on Tuesday, held the Astros scoreless for two innings. But two consecutive one-out singles combined with a glaring Kelly Johnson error, led to him surrendering a pair of runs in the top of the 12th inning.
Another potentially damaging situation for the Braves came in the 10th inning, which ended with Jones grounding into a double play. He seemingly jammed his right thumb on the swing and this might have played a part in him once again grounding into a double play in the 14th inning.
One batter later, Teixeira swung and missed the final pitch of a long evening. Despite producing a double-digit run total for a fourth straight game, the Braves were denied the opportunity to celebrate a fourth straight win. They now find themselves 4 1/2 games behind the Mets in the National League East race.
"You'd like to come through in every situation, but that's not possible," Teixeira said.
Jeff Lutz is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.