Baseball / Sports

Slump worsens as Braves lose again to Cardinals

ST. LOUIS -- The Atlanta Braves' road trip went from bad to worse Saturday at Busch Stadium, where they did more than enough to lose on their own and also got hurt by an umpire's ruling.

The Cardinals continued their recent mastery of the Braves by taking advantage of mistakes and manufacturing runs -- two things the Braves haven't done much of this season -- in a 4-1 win that was their fourth in five games against Atlanta this season.

Aaron Harang (4-4) was charged with six hits and three runs (two earned) in six innings, and the Braves wasted a couple of prime scoring opportunities on the way to their 12th loss in 17 games. They fell to 1-4 on the six-game trip and need a win Sunday to avoid being swept by the Cardinals.

The Braves are 1-8 with a 5.26 ERA, .200 batting average and 25 runs scored in their past nine road games.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was ejected for the first time this season after arguing that a double-play turned by the Cardinals in the fifth inning should've been ruled a foul ball on Harang's bunt attempt on a 1-1 pitch. The score was tied, 1-1, at the time of the incident and Andrelton Simmons had led off the inning with a double.

Replays showed Gonzalez had a strong case -- the ball hit the ground behind the plate and bounced up to catcher Yadier Molina, who bare-handed it and threw to third base to get Simmons trying to advance on the play. Matt Carpenter threw to first base to complete the double play.

"It's a tough call," Gonzalez said. "After coming back here (and watching the replay), it was close, but I thought maybe 5-6 inches foul when Yadi got it. But it's a tough job, it's a tough situation. They've got to make the call, there's no help really, and that's what I kept asking -- can we get some help from one of the (umpires) down the lines."

The Cardinals completed the double play easily, as Harang wasn't running because he believed the ball was foul.

"What stinks is that those little plays like that sometimes change the tempo of the game," said Harang, who stayed in the box and pointed to the spot on the ground where the ball hit. "If it gets called foul and then I can get another one down, move Simba over to third, and the next ball's a ground ball to short, then a run scores."

Gonzalez twice came back on the field after being ejected, to continue his argument. Fair and foul calls in the infield can't be reviewed by replay under the new system.

"What are you going to do?" Gonzalez said with a tone of resignation. "We still only scored one run. That would have been a nice opportunity to try it again, to try to advance a runner there with Harang. But it didn't materialize. We score a run on a throwing error, pretty much that's all we had the rest of the game."

The Braves took a 1-0 lead in the second inning on consecutive two-out singles by Simmons and Harang and a throwing error by second baseman Kolten Wong on the latter play.

After winning their first 14 games in which they scored first this season, the Braves have lost each of the past three games after scoring first, in the series finale at San Francisco and both games to start the Cardinals series.

Small ball was the order of the day for the Cardinals, who tied the score in the fourth inning after Wong's leadoff bunt single. Another single and an out later, Molina hit one of the shortest sacrifice flies you will ever see, a pop-up to shallow right field.

Second baseman Tyler Pastornicky drifted back as right fielder Jason Heyward came in, and when Pastornicky caught the ball his momentum was still taking him backward. He had to set to make a throw, and by that time Wong had already tagged up and was racing to the plate. He scored easily.

Pastornicky had to have season-ending knee surgery after colliding with Heyward on a similar play in August.

"That was a tough (play Saturday), man," Heyward said. "Because I try not to call him (off) unless I know for sure I've got it. I know he had a bead on that one, and by the time I realized I could get there it would have been tough to call him off. So you had to let him make the play. Heads-up play on their part by sending the runner."

The Cardinals scored two runs in the sixth inning to take a 3-1 lead, getting another bunt single from Wong after a leadoff hit-by-pitch. Allen Craig singled in one run and another scored on catcher Evan Gattis' throwing error to second on Wong's stolen base. St. Louis added a run in the seventh when left fielder Justin Upton misplayed Matt Adams' sinking line drive into a triple and Peter Bourjos squeeze-bunted him in.

(c)2014 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)

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