ST. LOUIS - At 5:15 CDT Friday, the clubhouse doors closed and a team that needed a kick in the rear end gave itself one.
For a half an hour the Atlanta Braves discussed the best way to start winning again.
In the end they couldn't come up with an answer.
A team in dire need of a boost got a terrific performance from Tom Glavine, but the offense went missing Friday night.
Glavine rolled into the ninth inning with a two-hit shutout, but Mark McGwire's homer tied the game, then Delino Deshields' leadoff homer against rookie reliever Mike Cather in the 12th sent the St. Louis Cardinals past the stumbling Braves 3-2 in front of 43,863 fans at Busch Stadium.
"We didn't hit, so we didn't win," manager Bobby Cox said, summing up the last three games.
The loss, coupled with Florida's win over Pittsburgh, left the Braves with a mere 3 1/2 game lead in the National League East, two in the loss column.
Glavine pitched around McGwire in his first three at-bats, walking him each time. But after Ray Lankford opened the Cards' ninth inning with a single, the left-hander put a 2-1 pitch in the strike zone and the big first baseman sent his 39th homer into the flower bed in right-center field to tie the game.
"Changeup," Glavine said. "A good pitch actually. Honestly, I think I made two or three pitches during the game that were worse than that one. He's so damn strong it doesn't take much for him to hit a homer."
Glavine, winless since July 16, departed having yielded four hits and matched his season-high with seven strikeouts.
A day off didn't do a thing for Atlanta's offense. Michael Tucker's two-run homer against rookie starter Manny Aybar gave the Braves a lead in the fifth, but following Chipper Jones' single in the same inning, they didn't have another hit until Javy Lopez's single in the 12th inning.
The Braves collected only six hits and stranded seven runners on base, boosting their seven-game total to 55. Besides the lack of offense, they also ran the basepaths with wild and foolish abandon. Mark Lemke was thrown out at the plate attempting to score on Kenny Lofton's single in the fifth, Tony Graffanino was caught trying to advance to third in the 10th and Chipper Jones was thrown out attempting to steal third in the 11th.
"If I'm safe it changes the whole complexion of the inning," Jones said. "I took a chance and it backfired."
Following Tucker's homer, the Braves didn't muster much of an attack. They managed two singles the rest of the way and were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position during that stretch.
"Things just aren't happening for us," Jones said. "We're a fraction of an inch off balls and it might be the difference between a double and a popup."
The loss wasted an outstanding performance by Glavine. Making his third start since missing a turn because of a sore Achilles tendon, he worked 3 2/3 hitless innings before Lankford sent a clean single up the middle in the fourth.
That remained the Cardinals' only hit until the eighth. Glavine pitched well, and he pitched wisely, working around McGwire, who had four homers in his last six games. He threw him three strikes in three at-bats and walked him each time.
Then came the ninth and if he had to do it over again, Glavine would pitch around McGwire again and deal with Ron Gant. But he didn't and McGwire's drive landed just past Lofton's leap at the wall.
"When bad things happen, it's not necessarily bad pitches," Glavine said. "I was on top of my game. That's probably as good a game as I've pitched all year."