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08/23/08 1:05 AM ET

Braves endure tough night in St. Louis

After Morton's rough start, Cardinals pile on in series opener

ST. LOUIS -- If there was reason to attempt to pinpoint a positive development, the Braves could at least take solace in the fact this wasn't another one-run road loss. Instead, it arguably was their most disheartening loss in a season that continues to get worse.

After at least proving competitive in two of three games while getting swept by the Mets to begin this six-game road trip, the Braves came to Busch Stadium on Friday night and allowed the Cardinals to produce a prolific hitting clinic.

Once the Cardinals concluded and claimed an 18-3 win over the Braves, Charlie Morton was healing his wounds and manager Bobby Cox was left to wonder if his injury-depleted pitching staff might force him to endure some more nights like this over the season's final five weeks.

"It's not embarrassing," Cox said. "This happens occasionally. But we've got to make better pitches from our young guys. There's too many bad games to good games."

Statistically, this kind of game only happens approximately once every 60 years for the Cardinals. Taking advantage of the youth of Morton, who allowed 10 of the 14 batters he faced to reach base safely, and the inefficiencies of a depleted bullpen, the Cards collected 26 hits, marking their largest hit total since Sept. 23, 1930.

"We were lucky they didn't score in the first inning," said Cox, whose team held St. Louis scoreless during just three of its turns at bat. "We couldn't get an 'at-em' ball all night."

With Yadier Molina and Cesar Izturis leading the way with four-hit performances, the Cardinals produced their season-high run total without the benefit of a home run. They collected five doubles and 21 singles, falling two shy of the Major League record. The last time they'd collected this many singles in a nine-inning game was July 6, 1929.

"There's not one person in this clubhouse that wouldn't say it's not embarrassing, the way we've been playing the last couple of weeks," said Braves catcher Brian McCann, who played five innings and got a birds-eye view of 18 of the hits his pitchers surrendered.

Hindered by a rotation that includes three rookies and another pitcher (Jo-Jo Reyes) who has made just 26 career starts, the Braves have known it would be unreasonable to set a goal of finishing this year with a .500 record. But having lost six straight and 11 of their past 12 games, they now have to face the possibility of encountering their first 90-loss campaign since 1990. To avoid this, they need to win 17 of their final 33 games.

But with youthful pitchers like Morton, who was charged with four earned runs and five hits in a career-low 1 1/3-inning effort, this also might be an unrealistic goal.

"It wasn't a thing where I didn't believe I could get them out," said Morton, who threw just 25 of his 57 pitches for strikes. "It was just a matter of the pitches not working."

Among his previous 12 career starts, Morton's roughest seemingly came on July 28, when he allowed the Cardinals eight earned runs and seven hits in 3 2/3 innings. While the run total was cut in half, this abbreviated outing, during which he issued a career-high five walks, now arguably stands as his toughest.

"It was a little bit of everything -- everything negative and very little positive," said Morton, who was fortunate to escape the first inning unscathed after issuing a pair of walks and allowing Albert Pujols to begin his three-hit night with a single.

The only out Morton recorded in the Cardinals' four-run second inning came courtesy of an Izturis sacrifice bunt. After surrendering a two-run double to Pujols, Morton intentionally walked Rick Ankiel and then saw his night end when he followed that with a bases-loaded walk to Troy Glaus.

"Charlie didn't have much luck and not much control," said Cox, whose team hadn't yielded this many hits since allowing the Giants to collect 27 on June 8, 1990.

The Cardinals, who were 14-for-24 with runners in scoring position, also bruised the ego of Matt DeSalvo, who allowed six earned runs and eight hits while facing 11 batters in the fifth inning. One of the hits he surrendered was an RBI single to Adam Wainwright, the former Braves top pitching prospect who celebrated his return to the mound with an easy win and a career-best three-hit performance.

Wainwright, who was making his start since spraining his right middle finger on June 7, allowed one earned run and five hits in six innings. The lanky right-hander has gone 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA in three career starts against the Braves.

Greg Norton's two-out, fifth-inning homer off Wainwright provided the only highlight for the Braves until Kelly Johnson and Brandon Jones contributed run-scoring hits in the ninth.

"We've got to stop playing this way, because it's starting to snowball," McCann said.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.