Weak defense rolls Morton to loss
Despite Teixeira's shot, errors spoil young starter's effort
ATLANTA -- This was one of those occasions when Braves manager Bobby Cox would have been justified to prove that even he has a breaking point. But despite the fact that his team just produced one of the ugliest games of the season, he still chose to publicly protect Yunel Escobar, who would have deservedly drawn his wrath.
Escobar's early physical and mental blunders set the tone for the Braves in their 4-3 loss to the Brewers at Turner Field on Tuesday night. The young shortstop played a part in a three-error first inning that caused Cox's blood to boil to the point that he nearly erupted three innings later.
"We played awful, and we didn't do the things we needed to do to win -- especially early in the game and it came back to haunt us," said first baseman Mark Teixeira, whose two-run, ninth-inning homer off Brewers closer Salomon Torres at least gave the Braves reason to think they might end a forgettable night in a memorable manner.
Still, Teixeira's fourth homer in the past three games only ended up causing the Braves to watch their dismal record in one-run games drop to 4-20. This latest one-run loss could have been avoided if the Charlie Morton would have gotten at least some respectable defensive support in the first two innings.
The three-error first inning led to two unearned runs and the Brewers scored again in the second inning when Brandon Jones misplayed a potential inning-ending fly ball that turned into a J.J. Hardy RBI double.
"It was just an ugly, ugly game," said Chipper Jones, who came off the bench with his sore right quad to produce an eight-inning leadoff single that went unrewarded. "Even to have a chance to tie and win the game, I don't know how we were in that situation."
When Corky Miller -- the last available position player -- popped out to end the game with runners on the corners, Cox was forced to remember how Escobar began the night by bobbling a Rickie Weeks grounder. Five batters later, the Cuban shortstop was slow to get to Jeff Francoeur's throw directed toward third. The play didn't lead to any additional runs, but it was one of two first-inning errors charged to Francoeur.
Escobar's biggest sin of the night occurred in the fourth inning, when he got caught too far off first base on a Kelly Johnson lineout. When Escobar was unable to get back to the bag ahead of Prince Fielder's tag, the Braves' shortstop reacted venomously and slammed his helmet, causing first base umpire Eric Cooper to issue an ejection.
Instead of coming out to fight for his player, Cox took about four steps onto the field, realized the ejection had been issued and then went back in the dugout. When Escobar took a seat in the dugout, Cox pointed toward the clubhouse and provided words that proved he wasn't just telling his player that rules prohibit ejected players from staying in the dugout.
"The last thing you want to do is get run out of a game and the umpire had to run him, he had no choice," said Cox, who was already playing short-handed with Jones missing his fourth straight start because of the sore quad.
Morton, who awoke with a fever early Tuesday morning and then battled some weakness through the rest of the day, had reason to wish he could have ejected a few of his players during the first couple of innings. Francoeur's first error of the first inning came when he bobbled a Ryan Braun single and allowed J.J. Hardy to advance to third base and in position to score on a Fielder sacrifice fly.
By the time Morton exited his third career start, he had allowed four runs -- two earned -- and seven hits in six innings.
"Morton deserved a lot better," Cox said. "He pitched a fine ballgame."
With Escobar out of the game, the Braves lineup was an easier target for Brewers starter Dave Bush, who allowed just one earned run and four hits in seven innings. The first hit he allowed that left the infield came when Mark Teixeira began the seventh inning with a double that would help him move into position to score on an Omar Infante groundout.
Jones was hoping to pinch-hit in the seventh inning after Francoeur singled with two outs. But Brandon Jones ended that inning with a strikeout. Instead of using Brent Lillibridge to begin the top of the eighth, Cox sent Chipper Jones to the plate and then sent Lillibridge in the game to serve as his pinch-runner.
After allowing Teixeira's homer, Torres, who has converted each of his 12 save opportunities since Eric Gagne went on the disabled list, surrendered a single to Brian McCann, who was immediately replaced with a pinch-runner. After a sacrifice bunt, Francoeur groundout and intentional walk to Brandon Jones, Miller carried his .103 batting average to the plate with the hope of providing a good ending.
Instead, he put an end to an ugly night that only briefly had a chance to memorable.
"It's one game," Morton said. "Nobody likes to lose. But there are going to be days like this."
Mark Bowman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.