Braves' wild-card lead is gone

Philadelphia 7, Atlanta 1
Atlanta's Dan Uggla kicks his bat after striking out. The Braves dropped into a tie in the NL wild-card race.

 

ATLANTA — Dan Uggla drop-kicked his bat after striking out on three pitches. Chipper Jones slammed his bat into the dirt after popping up. Derek Lowe just trudged off the mound to another round of boos from the home crowd, wondering how it all went wrong.

The Braves are mad and frustrated heading to the 162nd game.

Their season is on the brink after a potentially historic collapse.

“It’s like living out a bad dream,” Jones said.

Lowe had another miserable outing, surrendering five runs in four-plus innings, and the Braves took another step toward giving away a playoff berth that seemed certain just a few weeks ago with an ugly 7-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday night.

Chase Utley, Hunter Pence and Jimmy Rollins homered to back a three-hit outing by Roy Oswalt (9-10), who tuned up for the playoffs with a strong performance in a largely disappointing season.

“We’ve got one game to play in the month of September, then October comes around and it’s a new month,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “There’s not a person in that locker room who I wouldn’t want to be on my team to play that game.”

“I would hope so,” Jones said, trying to make light of the grim situation. “We’re pretty much all he has anyway.”

Certainly, that team is really, really struggling.

The Braves lost their fourth in a row and eighth in 11 games, sending them to the final day of the regular season tied for the NL wild-card lead after St. Louis beat Houston.

Atlanta, which had an 8½-game lead just three weeks ago, will send its ace to the mound tonight. Sixteen-game winner Tim Hudson will try to wrap up the wild card or at least force a one-game playoff against Cardinals, which would be Thursday night in St. Louis.

“It is what it is,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve played 161 games and it comes down to one. We’ve done it to ourselves. No excuses there. We’ve got to go get it tomorrow.”

Lowe (9-17) has lost all five of his September starts and drawing the ire of Atlanta fans.

They cheered lustily when Gonzalez popped out of the dugout to make a pitching change after Lowe gave up a leadoff single in the fifth, then heckled the high-priced right-hander as he trudged to the dugout – and straight to the showers without so much as a pause.

“When you’re 9-17 with a (5.05) ERA, come on, there’s really nothing you can say to sugarcoat it,” Lowe said. “I’m man enough to say I’ve had a terrible year. But we’ve still got a chance. Our best pitcher is going tomorrow. This isn’t about me. This is about this organization and how much hard work these guys have put in this season.”

The top three hitters in the Phillies’ lineup – Rollins, Utley and Pence – combined to go 6 for 12 with three homers, five RBI and four runs scored. Rollins had three hits and Pence drove in three runs.

CARDS RALLY FOR WIN

HOUSTON — Allen Craig homered among four RBI and Skip Schumaker drove in three as the visiting St. Louis Cardinals overcame a five-run deficit and pulled even in the National League wild card race with a 13-6 victory over the Houston Astros on Tuesday.

Lance Berkman had three hits and Ryan Theriot drove in a pair for the Cardinals.

Jake Westbrook did not have it at the beginning of the game, putting the Cardinals in a 5-0 hole after three innings. But the St. Louis offense woke up in the fourth, tagging Henry Sosa for five runs to tie it. Schumaker’s three-run double highlighted the rally.

The Astros went ahead with a run in the fifth but St. Louis fought back with four more runs in the seventh.

– Associated Press

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