07/31/08 12:00 AM ET
Jurrjens, Braves fall to Cards
Despite quality start, Atlanta drops third straight to St. Louis
By Ryan Lavner / MLB.com
They tease and tantalize, like when Jeff Francoeur selflessly leaped into the non-padded scoreboard in right field to save at least two runs, and when they loaded the bases in three separate innings.
But then Atlanta is painfully reminded of why it has been forced to sell away pieces in late July. The Braves were unable to build off the momentum generated by Francoeur's grab, and they couldn't push across any runs in those three bases-loaded situations.
So after a 7-2 loss to the Cardinals on Wednesday night, their fifth consecutive defeat overall, the Braves are now in danger of a four-game sweep if Thursday's outcome is no different.
"Luck is just not going our way right now," Atlanta starter Jair Jurrjens said. "Personally, it just [stinks] to see, because we've got a talented team and we're playing like this right now."
For the second night in a row, the final score didn't indicate how close the Braves came to escaping with a win. But for the second night in a row, Atlanta's bullpen failed to give the team a legitimate chance to rally in the ninth.
In the decisive seventh inning, Albert Pujols, who hit a solo homer and scored the game-winning run on Tuesday night, drove the ninth pitch he saw from Jurrjens for a double down the left-field line. Greg Norton gathered the ball and made a quick relay throw to shortstop Yunel Escobar, who turned toward home but hesitated. He didn't throw, allowing Adam Kennedy to race home from first base to give the Cardinals a 3-2 lead.
It only got worse from there, as Blaine Boyer surrendered a two-run homer to Joe Mather in the eighth and the Cardinals tacked on two more in the ninth.
"My last four outings couldn't have gone any worse than they have," said Boyer, who has allowed three homers in his past four games. "I know I've got to fix it and bounce back. It's one of those things where I can't wait to get back out there and get it right. I just have to keep my head up."
Boyer has made a Major League-leading 58 appearances this season and is part of a bullpen that is tiring quickly.
"It's crazy, because our bullpen was so good earlier on, even without [Rafael] Soriano and [Peter] Moylan, we would hold," manager Bobby Cox said. "And right now, we're not holding well enough."
Asked what specifically was wrong with the Braves' relievers, Cox replied, "Location. They're all throwing about the same miles per hour, but just not going in the right spots."
The Braves' bullpen woes are certainly disconcerting, but so is the offense's ineffectiveness with the bases loaded.
Atlanta squandered three bases-loaded chances -- in the third, fifth and eighth innings -- on Wednesday, grounding out in each. It still had a chance to make the game close in the eighth, when newly acquired first baseman Casey Kotchman came up to bat with the bases full and two outs. But Kotchman innocently grounded out to shortstop to end the inning and the threat. He finished 0-for-5 with four groundouts in his Braves debut.
"I think I'll have a little better feel tomorrow," Kotchman said.
Said Francoeur, who had a run-scoring single in the second inning: "I think Kotchman will come out tomorrow night and play loose and relaxed. I think you try so hard the first night with your new team and new manager and everything, and I'm sure he tried to do a little too much."
Francoeur helped Jurrjens and the Braves escape a potentially big fifth inning after the Cardinals had already pushed two runs across on hits from Cesar Izturis and Kennedy.
With the bases loaded and two outs, Francoeur made a spectacular grab against the right-field wall, crashing into the scoreboard, falling down on his back and robbing Troy Glaus of an extra-base hit. Jurrjens, appreciative of the effort, walked over to the first-base line and waited for Francoeur to return to the dugout. They slapped gloves as Francoeur flipped the ball into the stands as the crowd of 35,257 gave the scrutinized right fielder a standing ovation.
"I owe him some dinner," Jurrjens said with a smile.
Jurrjens was saddled with the loss, his sixth of the season, despite allowing three runs on seven hits in seven strong innings. But when the Braves don't perform in clutch situations, there's not much more the 22-year-old can do to win.
"It's why we've been struggling all season," Jurrjens said. "We never get the big hit when we need it. We just have to keep grinding it out."
Ryan Lavner is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.