SAN FRANCISCO -- The night before they were overwhelmed by Cuba's "Big Daddy" and an umpire whose strike zone was as broad as San Francisco Bay.
Saturday afternoon, the Braves were done in by a high sky at Pac Bell Park and a hitter who has terrified Atlanta's staff over the years.
The high left by a 5-1 homestand has quickly faded with a second straight loss to the San Francisco Giants, who took a 12-3 win before another sold out crowd (40,930), a game that turned on left fielder B.J. Surhoff's inability to catch J.T. Snow's fly ball in the sixth.
"To me, it changed the tide of the game," Surhoff said. "It's a helpless feeling, believe me. It was a good break for them and a terrible break for us."
It should have been the easiest of plays, but even wearing sunglasses and holding his glove high overhead to shield the sun, Surhoff couldn't catch a glimpse of the ball. It landed next to him, Barry Bonds scored the tying run, and Ellis Burks followed with a three-run home run, his 12th against the Braves, raising his career average against them to .323.
"No clouds and the sun sits right there," third baseman Chipper Jones said. "It gets up there and there's nothing you can do about it. I'm surprised it happened to us only once today."
Meanwhile, the New York Mets, 4-1 losers to the Dodgers, remained 1 12 games behind the Braves in the NL East. If the Braves hope to avoid a three-game sweep by the Giants this weekend, they might call on Mother Nature to send in some clouds for this afternoon's series finale.
Andy Ashby (8-10) cruised into the sixth with a two-hitter and exited on the wrong side of a 6-3 score. It started when he nailed Bonds in the foot and Jeff Kent followed with a hit-and-run single.
Then, Surhoff searched the sky in vain for Snow's fly ball, a play that touched off the Giants' offense.
"I'm not sure I ever played in a worse sun field than today," Surhoff said. "I had the darkest glasses I have on, but the ball just never came out of the sun."
Atlanta's bullpen only added to the carnage. Scott Kamieniecki gave up Kent's 28th home run in the seventh, then the Giants hit for the cycle against Stan Belinda in a five-run eighth. Belinda may cancel his next visit here. He has given up 11 hits and 11 earned runs in 1 13 innings at Pac Bell, three of his four appearances coming with the Rockies.
"I kind of felt for B.J. Surhoff," said Burks, who had a pair of home runs and knocked in four runs. "It's tough to play out here with that sun."
The Braves, who felt Doug Eddings' strike zone Friday night was large enough to swallow one of the yachts moored in the marina beyond center field, took exception to home plate umpire Charlie Reliford's lack of a call in the fourth.
After Bobby Estalella's third-inning home run halved the lead, Burks followed Snow's two-out double in the fourth with a tapper back to Ashby. His throw was slightly to the inside of the bag, where Burks was running, and sailed past first baseman Andres Galarraga, allowing Snow to score the game-tying run.
Replays clearly showed Burks running two feet inside the base path and Reliford should have ruled him out for interference, but the 11-year umpire refused to make the call and Bobby Cox earned his fifth ejection during the ensuing argument.
"That was only one play," Cox said. "We had a few other ones."
In the fifth, Javy Lopez restored the Braves' lead by launching Russ Ortiz's 0 and 1 delivery into the center field seats, a drive estimated at 415 feet, his 20th home run of the season.
At that point, the Braves should have packed their bats and gloves and returned to their downtown hotel. A forfeit would have been less painful than the next three innings.
Surhoff, who has spent his 14-year career in American League parks, was still trying to get an angle on the sun after the game.
"You just try and stay with the ball and hopefully catch it at the last minute," he said.
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