Baseball / Sports

Cardinals let the Braves off the hook in loss

ATLANTA -- St. Louis Cardinals reliever Randy Choate, in effect, made a kick save on Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman's grounder in the eighth inning Tuesday night. But that wasn't what he was trying to do, even though the ball deflected directly to third baseman Matt Carpenter.

Unfortunately, Carpenter had no play as the ball went for a hit, giving the Braves runners at first and second with one out in a 1-1 game. Pat Neshek, who had held righthanded hitters to a .114 average, relieved lefthander Choate and, after not getting the call on a 1-2 pitch to Chris Johnson, allowed a hard grounder to the right side.

Off the bat, Neshek thought it was a double play, but second baseman Daniel Descalso had been positioned near the bag for a potential double play and had no chance as the ball got into right field and ended the Braves' losing streak at seven in a 2-1 Atlanta triumph.

Choate, who suffered the loss, had everything in his favor in the eighth. He fanned lefthanded-batting Jason Heyward for the fourth time in four career meetings. After righthanded-hitting Justin Upton singled up the middle, lefthanded-hitting Freeman was next with a record of no hits and four strikeouts against Choate in five career at-bats.

Choate, who was hit in the left foot by Freeman's grounder as Choate was in his follow-through, actually had tried to put his knees together like a hockey goaltender trying to protect the five hole. In this instance, Choate said he wanted the ball to go through to shortstop Jhonny Peralta.

"I didn't feel like it was hit that hard," said Choate. "I didn't see it until right when it hit my foot. It was kind of a kick save after that. I kicked it right toward (Carpenter).

"It was just one of those things. If it misses me, it's a ground ball to Jhonny and we probably have a double play."

Instead, Choate was headed for his first loss this season.

"It's not like he put a rocket out into the gap," said Choate.

"He somehow found me and it ricochets off and you've got first and second. That's the way it bounces sometimes and it stinks, but what are you going to do?

"I have to become skinnier, I guess. Other than that, there's not much you can do about it."

This is rather the approach taken by unlucky Tyler Lyons, who pitched brilliantly for six innings, his only mistake a low changeup that Justin Upton golfed into the left-center-field seats for a fourth-inning home run.

"It was at the knees," said Lyons. "But it was pretty much splitting the plate in half. After I heard it and saw it, I knew it was going to be gone."

Upton was just one of five baserunners -- four hits and a walk -- allowed by Lyons, who struck out seven in six innings.

But his team has scored only two runs in the three starts made by Lyons in place of injured Joe Kelly.

"He pitched a great game," said Matt Holliday, who knocked in the only St. Louis run with a sixth-inning single. "It's unfortunate we didn't give him any support."

Manager Mike Matheny called it a "shame that we haven't been able to score that guy any runs."

But Lyons said, "It doesn't bother me. There are things I can't really control. That kind of stuff will come. It's not something I think anyone's worried about."

Well, maybe. The Cardinals have been held to fewer than three runs in an alarming 15 of 34 games, or nearly half.

Lyons, heeding advice from pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, who urged him to take a step back rather than speeding up in stress situations, said, "Out of the three starts, for sure, this was the best one. I was able to eliminate some things that got me in trouble in those two games."

Lyons, 26, said he felt was "controlling the game a little better. Slow it down. I like to work fast. When things are going well, I like to just move, move, move. I've had a tendency my whole career that when things get going sideways, I go faster and faster.

"That's something I've been trying to focus on. Take a step back. Take a breath."

With the Cardinals wanting to rest Carlos Martinez, who had pitched three days in a row, and Kevin Siegrist, who had worked hard in back-to-back games, Matheny went with a shortened bullpen. Seth Maness, who hadn't pitched since April 28, worked around a leadoff double in the seventh, but Choate and Neshek couldn't maintain the tie.

The Cardinals had four singles and a walk against Gavin Floyd in the first five innings. But Floyd, making his first major league start after missing most of last season with Tommy John elbow surgery, stifled the Cardinals each time.

The best early chance came in the third when Lyons walked with one out and Carpenter singled. But Yadier Molina and Holliday both grounded out.

In the fourth, the Braves turned their second double play before Allen Craig, two for 20 on the trip as he struggles again, flied deep to right for the final out.

"It looked like we were going to be able to put some good at-bats against (Floyd)," said Matheny, "but we really didn't stack them on top of each other too well. He kept us off balance ... there were a few hard-hit balls, and it looked like we were going to be all right and ... just stumped again."

With Kelly nowhere near being ready, Lyons, who had been in the bullpen for a couple of cameos between starts, probably will start again next Monday.

"I'll pretend I'm starting in five games or whatever it is until they tell me something else," said Lyons.

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