Vazquez victimized by big inning in loss
Braves starter roughed up in fifth as series slips away
ATLANTA -- While Javier Vazquez couldn't explain how he garnered such results with a rather impressive performance, the Braves were left to wonder how they managed to lose a series during which they surrendered just one extra-base hit and limited Albert Pujols to three singles.
Granted an early two-run advantage at Turner Field on Wednesday night, Vazquez seemed poised to help the Braves claim their second consecutive series victory. But that was before the Cardinals started depositing singles throughout a four-run fifth inning that carried them to a 5-3 win.
"Tonight is the worst luck that I've seen for us in a long time," Braves right fielder Jeff Francoeur said. "Vazquez threw awesome. That's baseball. They got four hits in the same spot it seemed, right over [Braves shortstop Yunel] Escobar's head. Four straight times. They kind of just chinked us to death."
Vazquez pitched effectively enough to have the opportunity to complete a season-high eight-inning performance, which included nine hits and five earned runs. The majority of that hit total -- also a season-high -- was accounted for by the six singles the Cardinals utilized to construct their decisive inning, which allowed Adam Wainwright to remain perfect in four career starts against the Braves -- who tabbed him as their first selection in the 2001 First-Year Player Draft.
"I threw the ball good, but in the box score it's not pretty," Vazquez said. "It's a disappointing game because when you have good stuff like I did today, you should win those games."
Attempting to preserve a 3-1 lead, Vazquez saw the Cardinals start the fifth inning with three consecutive singles. After a pair of strikeouts, Pujols, Chris Duncan and Rick Ankiel ended the frustration-filled onslaught with three consecutive RBI singles.
"We had the lead and you feel like you're going to win the ballgame, and then all of those head knockers and bloopers started happening and we couldn't stop it," manager Bobby Cox said. "He made the pitches."
While the fifth inning included a couple of well-placed liners, the sharpest single was the one directed through the middle of the infield by Pujols, who enjoyed a two-hit performance that allowed him to finish the series 3-for-12 with one RBI.
Along with successfully avoiding Pujols' destructive power, the Braves saw the Cardinals claim a pair of victories this week while recording just one extra-base hit -- Brendan Ryan's third-inning double off Vazquez, who two batters later would surrender a two-out, broken-bat RBI single to Skip Schumaker.
"That's why baseball is a tough game, a difficult game," said Vazquez, who had surrendered just one earned run in his previous two starts. "Things like that happen. It's part of the game. Sometimes you're going to have innings where you have three balls hit hard at people and sometimes you're going to have innings like that."
Scoring more than two runs for just the fifth time in their past 13 games was little consolation to the Braves, who managed just four extra-base hits during this series. Casey Kotchman accounted for three of those with a trio of doubles.
After Kotchman delivered a third-inning, one-out double, Francoeur drove him home with a single and then found his way toward the plate for the second run of the inning. The 25-year-old right fielder took third base on Matt Diaz's grounder to third and then raced home on a wild pitch charged to Wainwright.
While batting leadoff in place of the slumping Kelly Johnson during the final two games of the series, Omar Infante tallied five hits -- one more than Johnson has in his past 39 at-bats. Infante's three-hit performance in the series finale was highlighted by his second-inning RBI single. The versatile utility player also lined out with runners at first and second to end the eighth inning.
Wainwright, who is 4-0 with a 1.73 ERA in four career starts against the Braves, allowed three runs -- two earned -- and seven hits in six innings. After singles from Francoeur and Kotchman helped load the bases in the fifth, the 6-foot-7 right-hander escaped by getting David Ross to look at a third-strike curveball.
"It was like we couldn't get that big hit that we needed to get runners in after they took the lead," Francoeur said.
Consequently, Vazquez was forced to endure a hard-luck loss, while proving more efficient than he'd been in his previous four starts. The 32-year-old right-hander needed just 31 pitches to complete the first three innings and kept himself in the game by totaling 16 pitches over the sixth and seventh innings.
"He got blooped to death," Cox said. "I don't think he can pitch much better than that. Fist-jobs over the bag at second. He pitched great. He pitched a heck of a game."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.