St. Louis – They showed up Monday not with heads hung, but rather full of optimism, determined to put a five-game skid behind them and start cranking out some wins.
But after taking a three-run lead to the sixth inning, the Braves found another way to lose as their agonizing early season skid continued unabated.
The St. Louis Cardinals scored four runs in the sixth through eighth innings to pull out a 4-3 series-opening win at Busch Stadium, giving the Braves a six-game slide to equal the one that closed their 2009 season.
“It’s so frustrating,” said second baseman Martin Prado, who lined into an inning-ending double play with two on in the fourth, when the ball sailing a foot either way might’ve added a run or two to a 3-0 lead.
Instead they failed to tack on runs, and eventually Albert Pujols and Co. rallied to beat the last-pace Braves (8-11), who remained three games behind division leader Philadelphia in the closely bunched National League East.
After the Cardinals scored two runs in the seventh to tie the score at 3-3, they scored their winning run in the eighth on Yadier Molina’s ground-rule double against reliever Takashi Saito (0-1).
“It seems like when you go through a rough stretch, little things get magnified,” said Braves starter Tim Hudson. “That Prado line drive could have been a back-breaker [for the Cardinals]. They got a break there.”
Hudson was charged with three runs, six hits and three walks in six-plus innings, the last of his runs scoring in the seventh on Colby Rasmus’ homer off Hudson and Bryan Anderson’s two-out double off reliever Peter Moylan.
Hudson had wanted badly to end a losing streak that began with his last start, and for much of the night he and the Braves seemed poised to do it.
He had a 3-0 lead before giving up a run in the sixth and the homer to Rasmus in the seventh. After walking the next batter, Yadier Molina, Hudson was replaced by Moylan.
Molina put himself in scoring position with a stolen base, the thick catcher taking advantage of Moylan’s slow, sweeping delivery and pitch selection – a slider to Brendan Ryan, a pitch that doesn’t get to the plate as quickly as Moylan’s sinker.
With Molina at second, Moylan struck out Ryan for the second out before Anderson’s first-pitch, pinch-hit double to left drove in the tying run.
“He ambushed me, swung at the first pitch,” Moylan said. “I’ve got to tip my cap to him. But it just [ticks] me off that Huddy pitched his [butt] off and I couldn’t keep them from scoring.”
The Braves got back-to-back two-out walks from Troy Glaus and Jason Heyward in the eighth inning, but Melky Cabrera flied out.
Saito came in to pitch the eighth, and Pujols doubled to start the inning. One out later, Rasmus was intentionally walked.
Molina made the Braves pay when he bounced a double over the fence.
“We came today with a new face, we felt like a new team,” Prado said. “For some reason, once we got on the field it didn’t happen. We’re trying our best to win games, and it’s just not happening. Everything feels so relaxed when we’re winning. But right now, everything’s going the wrong way. It stinks.”
The Braves got two hits from the slumping Glaus in his first game back at St. Louis, where he had 27 homers and 99 RBIs for the Cardinals in 2008 before missing most of last season recovering from shoulder surgery.
He was 3-for-29 (.103) in 10 games before Monday, when Glaus singled in the second and third innings. His third-inning hit drove in the Braves’ second run, after Brian McCann’s bases-loaded sacrifice fly.
Heyward struck out with two runners on to end the third inning, the second inning in a row that the Braves stranded two runners.
They went 3-for-22 with runners in scoring position while getting swept in a weekend series against the New York Mets to begin the seven-game trip.
The Braves entered Monday with a league-worst .228 team batting average, and have scored a total of nine runs during their six-game slide.
They have gone homerless in eight of their past nine games and scored 17 runs during that 2-7 stretch.
The Braves extended their early lead to 3-0 on a fourth-inning double by Nate McLouth, who came in batting .146 with only two RBIs for the season.
They still had two runners on when Prado lined to third baseman David Freese to start a double play. Yunel Escobar was caught off first base on the play, but the ball was hit so hard that nobody faulted Escobar.
“Escobar played a super game,” manager Bobby Cox said of the recently maligned shortstop, who made some sensational defensive plays Monday while going 1-for-4 with a walk in his first game batting leadoff this season.
“He saved us two runs, one on a play to his right and one to his left.”