ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Braves squandered John Burkett's best start of the year Sunday, and the 5 12-game lead they began August with is in ruins.
The Braves saw their lead erode to one game over the New York Mets after falling 7-2 to the St. Louis Cardinals before 46,574 at Turner Field. The Mets, who beat Arizona 2-1 Sunday, are as close as they have been since July 1.
Cardinals shortstop Placido Polcanco collected three hits and three RBIs and St. Louis scored six of its runs against the Atlanta bullpen. The Cards took three of the four games in their final regular-season stop in Atlanta, and they won Sunday without the benefit of a hit from either Jim Edmonds or Will Clark.
It was the Braves' first home series loss since the Montreal Expos took 3-of-4 July 3-6.
"We're playing about as bad as we've played all year," said Mike Remlinger, who was tagged for three runs in the eighth and allowed an inherited runner to score in the seventh. "We needed to feel good about the effort we put up when we come in after nine innings ... I don't."
Darryl Kile (15-9) struck out five in becoming the National League's fifth 15-game winner. Kile tossed his fourth complete game, and twice over the last five innings stranded runners at second and third.
"We made some great defensive plays, and I made some mistakes where they just didn't center it," said Kile. "The complete game is nice, but it was important for us to win."
Reliever Kerry Ligtenberg (2-3) suffered the loss.
In a game that was delayed at the outset two hours and 32 minutes by rain, Burkett struck out five and walked two over six innings of work, allowing just two hits, but got no decision for his third straight start. The Cardinals plated three runs in the seventh against reliever Kerry Ligtenberg, who walked two batters then surrendered a two-run double to St. Louis shortstop Placido Polanco.
After Ligtenberg struck out Kile for the second out, Braves manager Bobby Cox brought in Remlinger to face left-handed hitter Fernando Vina, who lined an 0-1 curve ball to plate Polanco.
"That was the ball game there," said Remlinger. "The three runs in the eighth ... you're going to have bad outings. But I'm more ticked off with not getting the out in the seventh and keeping it 3-2.
"I threw him a pretty good first-pitch fastball, then hung a curve for him. I've gotten outs with that pitch before. In that situation, it's about making pitches, and I didn't make that pitch."
The way Kile was throwing, it might not have mattered.
"Our bullpen has been fantastic all year long," said Burkett. "You're going to see from time to time where they have letdowns. They're human. I'll hand the ball over to them any time."
Burkett might have stayed in the game if not for fouling a ball off his foot in the fifth inning.
"He had a grapefruit pop up on there," said Cox. "I thought Ligtenberg was throwing the ball well, but he walked a couple of guys and that's always going to get you."
The Braves, who are 53-17 when scoring first, could not make an early lead stand up. They jumped ahead in the bottom of the third, when Burkett drove in Reggie Sanders with a weak ground ball to second, his first RBI since May 3, 1996. Rafael Furcal followed with a sacrifice fly to plate Walt Weiss for a 2-0 lead.
Burkett retired the first nine batters he faced before hitting Fernando Vina to lead off the fourth, and the first hit he allowed was a swinging-bunt single to Craig Paquette later in the inning.
Burkett left with a 2-1 lead, but the Cardinals used two hits and two walks to score three off Ligtenberg in the seventh, and added three more runs against Mike Remlinger in the eighth, when Mike Matheny's two-run single made it 7-2 and removed any doubt about the result.