Tough inning prevents Braves sweep
In eighth, Gonzalez endures line drive in midst of Giants rally
ATLANTA -- While the homestand will still certainly be viewed as successful, its conclusion was not fitting. After spending a week bashing opposing pitchers and producing a number of defensive gems, the Braves found their bats silenced and their solid glovework tarnished by some defensive miscues.
With four unearned runs in the eighth inning at Turner Field on Thursday afternoon, the Giants handed a 5-1 defeat to the Braves, whose inability to complete a four-game series sweep proved frustrating simply because it provided a sour taste at the conclusion of this otherwise impressive eight-game homestand.
"One bad inning in eight games -- I'm not going to dwell on it," Chipper Jones said. "But today it was the difference."
Hoping to emerge from the All-Star break with a 7-1 homestand, Atlanta instead headed toward Milwaukee early Thursday evening having to think about how Casey Kotchman's lackadaisical soft throw and Peter Moylan's indecision turned two sacrifice-bunt attempts into destructive eighth-inning events.
"I don't know exactly what happened during that inning," Braves manager Bobby Cox said in reference to the eighth, which began with Nate Schierholtz lining an infield single off Mike Gonzalez's left forearm.
While Gonzalez is expected to be available to pitch again within the next few days, he was forced to make an immediate exit and watch the eighth inning further develop when Travis Ishikawa's sacrifice-bunt attempt turned into a bunt single because of Kotchman's soft toss.
Things got uglier when Moylan fielded Juan Uribe's bunt on the right side of the mound, looked toward third base and then made a throw to first that hit Uribe and allowed Schierholtz to score what proved to be the decisive run.
"That was a tough inning," Braves infielder Martin Prado said. "It happens. You don't have to blame anybody. That was just a great game and they took advantage."
Moylan recorded two strikeouts before the follies resumed with Randy Winn's RBI single to right accounting for two more runs because Jones was unable to field Ryan Church's throw.
"The mistake was made when [Moylan] spun to third," Jones said. "You've got to get an out in that situation, just like you have to get an out when Casey lobbed the ball to first. We have a chance to get out of that inning if we get one of those two outs, and we didn't do it."
Suddenly the 1-1 tie that was present at the beginning of the inning had evolved into a four-run deficit for the Braves, who certainly didn't play like the same team that had hit .315, scored 47 runs and committed two errors while winning six of its previous seven games.
"Those [first] three games, they played as well as any team we've played this year," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, whose club entered Thursday's series finale having lost six of its past seven games.
With Barry Zito allowing just three hits and one run over seven innings, San Francisco managed to leave Atlanta with at least some of the optimism it had possessed when the club started this four-game set leading the National League Wild Card chase.
Yunel Escobar's second-inning leadoff homer off the right-field foul pole accounted for all of the offensive provided for Kenshin Kawakami, who battled through a 97-pitch effort and limited the Giants to one run in five innings.
"[Zito] was good," Jones said. "He was, how should I put this, maximizing the width and height of the strike zone. Up and down, it was a tough day for us. It certainly seemed like [the strike zone] was a lot bigger when he was out there than when our guys were out there. But that happens. Umpires have off days, too."
Zito skirted out of trouble in the fourth inning, during which he erased the potential damage of four walks with four strikeouts. Then after issuing another leadoff walk to Prado to begin the bottom of the sixth, the veteran southpaw benefited from home-plate umpire Jeff Kellogg's call on a 3-2 curveball to Escobar.
As Escobar started toward first thinking he'd drawn a one-out walk, Cox yelled for Prado to hold up with his attempted steal of second base. As a result, Zito ended the inning with a strikeout-throwout double play that was followed with Cox increasing his all-time ejections record total to 146.
"I've never seen a ball called a strike like that, ever, in 50 years," Cox said in reference to the high-arcing curve.
Cox didn't seem to be nearly as frustrated with the fact that the umpires hadn't ruled that Uribe was inside the first-base line when Moylan hit him with the throw in the eighth inning. But Jones chose to comment on the reality that yet another possible baserunning interference ruling hadn't gone in the Braves' direction.
"That call never seems to go our way, whether we're the team running or whether we're the one on defense," Jones said. "Apparently the officials tend to be looking the other way whenever we're on defense, but have a keen eye whenever we're hitting."
Still, while disturbed about the eighth inning and perturbed about some of the calls that went against his team, Jones refused to allow one bad day to erase the positive vibe that had been created during a homestand that at least created some post-break optimism.
"I'm not going to harp on the bad things that happened today," Jones said. "We played an awesome homestand. We beat some good pitchers. We won three out of four in both sets. No one is going to snicker at that."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.