ST. LOUIS -- It had been two months since Tim Hudson experienced a loss and more than seven years since he'd suffered one in this manner. Serving as the culprit was an unbelievably unlucky inning, the likes of which he and the Braves hope never to suffer through again.

Hudson's dominant two-month run was snapped courtesy of the fortune-filled five-run fifth inning that the Cardinals used to claim a 5-4 win over the Braves at Busch Stadium on Saturday night.

"Huddy had the worst luck I've ever seen of any pitcher in one inning," said Braves manager Bobby Cox, who has seen plenty of misfortune while watching his team win just two of the first six games they've played on this current 10-game road trip.

Reviewing the play-by-play recap of the decisive fifth inning will show that Hudson surrendered five straight singles before surrendering an out. What won't be evident is the that the first one came courtesy of a well-placed bunt and that the next two came off of shattered bats. The string concluded with a Jim Edmonds single that was deemed a hit courtesy of a generous official scorer and the inability of Braves shortstop Yunel Esobar to get an unobstructed view of the sharp grounder that found its way to center field.

"He's been great," Cox said of Escobar, a 23-year-old rookie who has served as the everyday shortstop since Edgar Renteria's right ankle problems began on Aug. 2. "I could never fault him. But that was a routine double play."

Instead of grounding into a momentum-killing double play, Edmonds found himself with an RBI single that was assisted by the fact that Rick Ankiel unintentionally blocked Escobar's view.

"I thought I had it when it first came off the bat," Escobar said with Braves bench coach Chino Cadahia serving as his interpreter. "But then I lost track of it because of the runner."

Hudson, who patted Escobar on the back after the game to let him know he understood the situation, was charged with five earned runs and nine hits in just five innings. All of the runs and six of those hits came during that fateful fifth inning, during which the Cardinals' only extra-base hit was Scott Rolen's RBI double.

"It's one of those nights; it's going to happen," said Hudson, whose bid to win a 10th consecutive decision for just the second time in his career was ended with what is his first loss in 12 starts -- dating back to June 19.

Given the fact that all of this occurred after he'd helped the Braves gain a three-run lead with a pair of RBI singles, this wasn't just one of those nights. It marks just the second time in Hudson's career that he suffered a loss in a game after being given a three-run lead. He's now 95-2 in this situation, with his previous loss having come on Aug. 23, 2000.

"I think any frontline starter in baseball, if you give them three runs, they should feel like they should win," Hudson said. "I felt like I should have won tonight."

Even with the misfortune-filled fifth inning, the Braves still had a chance to begin this three-game series with a second straight win. But after a Rolen throwing error put runners at second and third, Andruw Jones ended the game by striking out for the fourth time in six career at-bats against Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen.

But just a small portion of the blame could be placed on Jones, who saved a couple runs in the eighth when he slammed into the center-field wall to rob Edmonds of an extra-base hit that would have likely scored two runs.

After beginning the sixth with consecutive singles, the only run the Braves managed to score in the inning came courtesy of Mark Teixeira's RBI infield single. Teixeira has 30 RBIs in his first 23 games with the Braves.

"We had opportunities," said Chipper Jones, as he spoke with ice wrapped around his sore right groin muscle. "We just couldn't get the dagger hit tonight."

The hits just keep coming for the Braves on and off the field. Renteria's brief return from the disabled list lasted just one pitch on Wednesday night. Now during the sixth inning of this latest setback, Jones aggravated his right groin, which has occasionally bothered him throughout the season.

And just to throw a little salt in their ever-expanding wounds, the Braves now find themselves trailing the front-running Padres by four games in the National League Wild Card race. As for the Mets, they suddenly find themselves with a comfortable seven-game lead over the Phillies and Braves in the NL East.

"You make your own breaks," said Jones, who will take batting practice before deciding whether to play on Sunday. "We had a lot of unfortunate things happen to us tonight. We had some broken-bat hits fall in against us. We hit some balls right on the button where their guys were standing right there. It all continues to add to the frustration."