PHILADELPHIA - All it will take, of course, is a lengthy winning streak, say eight or nine games of double-digit scoring and pitching excellence, to silence the grumbling.
But for the moment, the Braves will take a win tonight and cross their fingers the remainder of their 10-game trip doesn't compare with Friday night's 8-3 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, a game that should have been played to a Looney Tunes soundtrack.
Instead of celebrating a 2-1 win at Veterans Stadium, the Braves were left moaning an artificial turf infield that nearly decapitated shortstop Rafael Furcal and left them a game below .500 yet again.
"Sometimes it's not meant to be; it's not in the cards," said third baseman Chipper Jones, who had three of the Braves' eight hits. "The ground ball to Furcal was the killer. That's a tailor-made double play, and it takes a bad hop and hits him in the neck. A couple of bad breaks here and there cost us a run and ultimately a lot of runs."
Bad enough the Phillies tied the game 2-2 in the sixth against starter Kevin Millwood when pinch-hitter Rob Ducey's blooper eluded Jones and fell into shallow left field. Imagine the Braves' frustration in the seventh when Mike Lieberthal's inning-ending double play roller skidded across the turf, hit a patch of dirt and caromed like a racquetball shot into Furcal's upper chest. Instead of the inning being over, the Phillies led 3-2, and the game spiraled out of the Braves' control.
"Tough play," Furcal said. "After the carpet, it hit the dirt and jumped. I can't do anything. It's too quick."
The next batter, Travis Lee, worked Odalis Perez for a walk, then three batters later pinch-hitter Kevin Jordan delivered a grand slam against Marc Valdes, the second grand slam he's allowed in two weeks.
"I can't do anything about it," said Perez, who worked seven shutout innings against the Phillies on Sunday. "I don't feel bad. They were lucky. We had two double plays, and we didn't complete either of them. That's the game. It happens."
A lineup that has not produced more than four runs in the past 12 games left runners strewn on the bases like parade confetti. The Braves were a collective 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position and are batting .221.
Andruw Jones hit his fourth home run off Phils starter Omar Daal to put the Braves on the board in the first, but that was the sum of the offense until the sixth. Daal's soft-serve deliveries kept the hitters off balance. He struck out five in six innings and didn't allow the Braves to advance a runner past second base until the Jones boys went to work in the sixth.
Andruw Jones walked and Chipper Jones followed with a double against the base of the left-field wall to make it 2-0. A chance for more runs evaporated quickly. Javy Lopez singled, but Wes Helms went down swinging, and B.J. Surhoff was called out on strikes, stranding runners on the corners.
"A change of scenery hasn't changed our at-bats with runners in scoring position," Chipper Jones said. "There has to come a point where we start putting crooked numbers up on the board, instead of solo numbers. If it doesn't happen soon, we may dig ourselves a hole we can't dig out of."
Millwood, who has pitched well enough to win three of his four starts, worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the third, but his shutout dreams ended in the sixth. Bobby Abreu doubled to right, Lee followed with a single, and Pat Burrell's single to right made it 2-1. Chipper Jones then overran Ducey's soft fly, and the game was tied at 2.
"Four games, one bad inning," said Millwood, who remained winless, but lowered his earned run average to 4.13. "It's not coming together for me right now."
Reach Bill Zack at email@example.com.
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