ST. LOUIS -- The cameras flash during each of Mark McGwire's at-bats, which only means that Kodak has made a fortune during the first two games of this series.
Thanks to an Atlanta Braves pitching staff that refuses to throw baseball's home run leader anything he can send into Big Mac Land, there's been plenty of photos snapped of everything except what the 45,666 fans at Busch Stadium came to see Friday night.
If the cameras had pointed at Kerry Ligtenberg instead, fans would have come away with a keepsake. The closer, whose stretch of perfection extended back to May 23, blew his first save in 39 appearances and the St. Louis Cardinals scored a run in the 10th inning on Ron Gant's two-out, bases-loaded single against Dennis Martinez to snap a six-game losing streak with a 5-4 victory over the Braves.
"We're going to give Kerry a couple of days off," manager Bobby Cox said. "To tell you the truth, I hesitated to use him. He's been out there too many times, so we'll give him a breather."
Leading 4-3 in the ninth, left fielder Ryan Klesko saved Ligtenberg by making an outstanding leaping catch of Gant's drive, but moments later third baseman Fernando Tatis launched his fourth homer to tie the game.
"Both of those pitches, if I get them where I want to they don't hit them out," Ligtenberg said. "Obviously, I haven't felt as strong as I have in the past, but I'm not going to make excuses. I'd like to get back out there and have a chance to get it done, but if (Cox) gives me a couple of days off I'll enjoy them and get rested."
Ligtenberg had converted 18 straight save opportunities, but his third blown save prevented Greg Maddux from becoming the National League's first 18-game winner.
"In a perfect world, you save every game and today is a day I didn't get it done," Ligtenberg said. "It happens once in awhile, I guess."
In the 10th, Martinez (3-5) struck out McGwire with a pair of runners on base, then fell behind Ray lankford 3-1 and chose to intentionally walk him. After missing with his first three pitches to Gant, Martinez threw a pair of strikes before the left fielder sent a hard grounder through the left side for the winning run.
Juan Acevedo (7-3) picked up the win with 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief. He dodged trouble in the 10th by forcing a weak grounder from Chipper Jones with two runners in scoring position.
Maddux allowed three runs in the first two innings and departed after seven with six strikeouts. He faced McGwire three times, walked him twice and allowed a third-inning double.
Rudy Seanez took over in the eighth and threw three 98 m.p.h. fastballs past McGwire, leaving the big redhead with a .154 batting average, one homer and 12 strikeouts against the Braves this season.
There was no hiding the Cardinals' approach to beating Maddux. Run, run, run, then run some more. They had a pair of hits and two steals in the first inning and took a 2-0 lead, then scored another run in the second on Eli Marrero's RBI single, but ran themselves out of another run when Marrero was thrown out trying to swipe third.
Still, three runs against Maddux was a wealth of offense for a St. Louis lineup that had averaged little more than two runs in their previous 39 games against him. It also boosted Maddux's tally to 15 earned runs allowed in his last 20 innings, an earned run average of 6.75 over four starts.
After the initial flurry of runs, Maddux settled into his usual efficiency and limited the Cardinals to two hits over the next five innings, allowing just two runners to advance past first base.
Cards starter Kent Mercker, a 3-2 winner over Maddux in Atlanta July 31, used two pitches to handle the Braves. He showed off an 89 m.p.h. fastball and a 75 m.p.h. changeup and limited Atlanta's lineup to five hits in six innings and two runs, only one earned.
The first run scored in the fourth when Marrero allowed a third strike to Andres Galarraga to get past him, then compounded his mistake by overthrowing McGwire at first base. The ball rolled all the way into the right field corner as Galarraga galloped to third. He scored moments later on Andruw Jones' ground ball, his 70th RBI, matching last year's total.
In the sixth the Braves pushed a legitimate run across the plate, thanks to Mercker's wildness. He issued consecutive walks to Jones and Eddie Perez, then Tony Graffanino bounced an infield hit to the right side, scoring Jones.
Mercker gave way to reliever Mark Petkovsek in the seventh, departing with a skinny 3-2 lead after making 114 pitches, 60 for strikes. The advantage was gone in minutes. Pinch hitter Michael Tucker singled, Chipper Jones barely missed a home run with a double against the top of the right field wall and Galarraga was intentionally walked to load the bases.
That brought Andruw Jones, the club's hottest hitter, to the plate and he slammed Petkovsek's first pitch into left field for two runs and the lead.
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