Another one-run game gets away
Bullpen allows walk-off single in ninth for fifth straight loss
NEW YORK -- Once again, the Braves were given a chance to celebrate a rare one-run road victory. But for the second time in three days, their bullpen found a way to prolong a frustrating skid that has lasted more than a year.
The Braves have lost each of the past 27 one-run games they've played on the road. All of these losses have been frustrating. But few have been as deflating as the error-induced 5-4 setback they suffered against the Mets at Shea Stadium on Thursday night.
"Lose a ball in the lights, it costs you a ballgame," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "A little flip to first base, costs you a ballgame. Neither one were easy plays."
But both plays might have been made if Martin Prado and Omar Infante weren't forced to play unfamiliar positions. Prado's errant seventh-inning flip toward the first-base bag allowed the Mets to tie the game, and Infante's inability to secure what seemed to be a routine catch allowed Carlos Delgado to enjoy his five-hit, three-RBI night in walk-off fashion.
With runners at first and second base and one out in the ninth, Delgado lined Vladimir Nunez's 1-1 changeup directly toward Infante in left field. But the utility player, who had made 17 previous starts in the outfield this year, never saw the ball until it hit off his glove and fell to the ground.
David Wright, who had reached with a one-out double off Nunez, had already raced toward third and was able to cruise toward the plate to enjoy the celebration that culminated his team's three-game sweep of the Braves, who have lost 10 of their past 11 games.
"Right in the lights," Cox said. "Double play, we'd get Wright at second, too. He had taken off, he was halfway home. Can't fault [Infante], I mean, if the ball gets in the lights, you can't see it."
Looking to claim their first one-run road win since notching one at this same stadium on Aug. 9, 2007, the Braves saw a light at the end of the tunnel that came courtesy of a lead they gained with a three-run sixth inning against Pedro Martinez.
After Brian McCann directed a game-tying, two-run double down the left-field line, the catcher raced home with the go-ahead run in the sixth on Infante's RBI single to center. Suddenly, it appeared Mike Hampton, who allowed three earned runs and eight hits in six innings, might win a second consecutive start for the first time since securing one at this same stadium on April 27, 2005.
But Hampton's effort went for naught when the Mets manufactured a seventh-inning run against Jeff Bennett and Will Ohman, whose struggles had denied the Braves from holding the one-run, eighth-inning lead they'd gained during Monday's series opener.
Bennett surrendered a one-out double to Nick Evans and issued a two-out walk to Carlos Beltran before giving way to Ohman, who had surrendered a bases-loaded, go-ahead double to Delgado two nights earlier.
Seeking redemption, Ohman immediately got Delgado to hit a grounder that Prado dove and grabbed. But the utility infielder, who was forced to make his first career start at first base, threw slightly behind Ohman, who was racing toward the first-base bag. The errant throw allowed Evans to cross the plate with the game-tying run.
Prado was placed at first base when Greg Norton was scratched from the lineup because he'd jammed his left shoulder while attempting to catch Yunel Escobar's errant throw in the first inning of Wednesday's loss. Norton had been positioned at first base in place of Casey Kotchman, who is currently on the bereavement list because his mother is battling an unspecified medical problem.
"Prado made a pretty good play, then tried to throw it from the seat of his pants," Cox said. "Not having played first base hardly at all, it becomes tough. But he did a good job otherwise. Can't fault him for that either. He made a nice little stop of it and couldn't flip it."
This was just another cruel development for the struggling Braves, who began the night auspiciously, when Escobar drilled Martinez's first pitch of the game over the left-field wall. The shortstop's first homer in 213 at-bats marked the beginning of his three-hit night.
With his sinker working, Hampton allowed the Braves to stay in position to claim their short-lived, sixth-inning lead. The only damage incurred by the 35-year-old southpaw came courtesy of a pair of RBI singles from Delgado and Wright's fifth-inning solo homer.
"I gave up a lot of ground-ball hits," Hampton said. "I made a few mistakes to David Wright and Delgado, but for the most part, I felt I made quality pitches and gave us a chance to win, at least."
This was Hampton's sixth start since ending his three-year, injury-forced absence from a Major League mound, and he felt this was his finest effort since his left elbow became a problem three seasons ago. He threw 100 pitches in a start for the first time since May 3, 2005, and gained more confidence that he can pitch and remain healthy at the same time.
"The body felt pretty good tonight," Hampton said. "I made some pretty good pitches. My fastball's kind of starting to get there, the velocity's starting to come back a little bit. I felt pretty comfortable."
As for Cox, over the course of the past year, he's felt everything but comfort whenever his team has held a one-run, late-inning lead on the road.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.