ATLANTA -- If it's not an unknown pitcher who's draining the lifefrom their bats, it's an Olympic hero.
And just as the Braves' lumber was mostly useless Wednesday, it wasequally fruitless Thursday night with Ben Sheets on the mound for theMilwaukee Brewers.
In another futile attempt to string some wins together, the Bravesemptied their bat rack without finding a Louisville Slugger thatworked, and dropped a 5-0 decision to the Brewers that turned on JohnBurkett's inability to limit the damage in the third inning.
A crowd of 26,411 at Turner Field watched in dismay as the Braves,who were 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position, left the basesloaded in the third, rolled into a pair of double plays, and stranded11 runners on base.
"It's the eighth wonder of the world," said third baseman ChipperJones, referring to an offense that produced four runs in three gamesagainst the Brewers and is now batting a collective .210 with runnersin scoring position. "I have no clue, no explanation for it."
Burkett, who beat the Diamondbacks 9-0 last Friday, his firstshutout in five years, allowed as many hits (3) in the third as he'dgiven up in Phoenix. But it was the second of three walks from apitcher who averages less than two walks per nine innings that did themost damage.
Burkett's shutout streak reached 13 innings before the Brewerscrashed his party. Sheets walked in the third, Ron Belliard singled andex-Brave Tyler Houston followed with a two-run double to left-center.Two batters later, Jeromy Burnitz was intentionally walked and JeffreyHammonds roped a two-out double into the left field corner to make it4-0.
"Horrible inning," said Burkett, who fell to 1-4 and hasn't wonconsecutive starts since last September. "Walking the pitcher to leadoff an inning is death. The rest of the game I was satisfied with, butthat one inning I was lost. If I hold them down that inning, thingswould have been different."
The Braves' best chance to score came in the third, when theyloaded the bases with two outs on singles by Andruw Jones, B.J. Surhoffand Brian Jordan. But Rico Brogna, the team's leading hitter withrunners in scoring position (.400), tapped into a fielder's choice toend the threat.
In the fourth, Marcus Giles, who singled in the second for hisfirst major league hit, singled to right, and Paul Bako walked. ButBurkett, who treats a bat like an alien life form, bunted into a 5-6-4double play, and a budding rally died a quiet death.
"We're definitely giving away too many at-bats," said hittingcoach Merv Rettenmund, who has been left shaking his head at the team's.236 batting average and 3.7 runs per game.
Sheets, who vanquished Cuba in last summer's gold medal game at theSydney Olympics, had some help. Devon White, the left fielder, leapedat the wall in the third to rob Chipper Jones of a two-run home run,then second baseman Belliard ranged behind second to glove Bako'sbouncer in the sixth and save a run.
Sheets, who lasted six innings and allowed six hits and four walks,retired the side in order just once. He passed another stiff test inthe sixth following Jordan's single and a walk to Brogna. He fellbehind Giles 3 and 0, then coaxed a double-play ground ball from thesecond baseman, and Belliard threw out Bako to keep the shutout intact.
"We'd like to think we're capable of hitting good pitching too,"said Brogna, who had one hit in three trips. "But right now we'reobviously having a tough time putting runs on the board. The timelyhitting just hasn't been there."
Reach Bill Zack at email@example.com.
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