ATLANTA -- There's something to be said for the Braves' defense.
The error of their ways -- the Braves made three errors in a secondstraight game, including two in a span of three batters in the decisivesixth inning of Friday night's 7-0 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks --narrowed their division lead to one game.
This was supposed to be a rejuvenating homestand, but it's turnedinto a survival test. Three losses in four games, and now a skinnydigit separates the Braves and Phillies, the closest the two teams havebeen since July 27.
"You can store that one in the ugly category," third basemanChipper Jones said. "When you've got more errors than hits in seveninnings against a team of that caliber, it's pretty ugly."
For the crowd of 40,101 that came to Hank Aaron Drive hoping to seethe Braves shake off their Turner Field blues, no such luck, unless youcount the six singles they collected off Curt Schilling, who allowedtwo runners to advance beyond first base in seven innings.
The Braves have now lost five of their last seven home games, and18 of their last 30. The last time they had three errors inback-to-back games? Sept. 17-18, 1999.
"We were never really in the ballgame," manager Bobby Cox said. The defense betrayed reliever Kerry Ligtenberg Thursday night, andimploded in the sixth Friday with the Braves down 2-0.
Shortstop Rey Sanchez's stand-in, Mark DeRosa, triggered athree-run outburst by fumbling Reggie Sanders' roller, then threw itinto the dugout. Instead of two out and two on, Sanders reached safely,and a run scored.
Damian Miller went down swinging, then first baseman Ken Caminitibooted Schilling's tapper, and Tony Womack heaped on the abuse with arun-scoring single.
"Very uncharacteristic of our ballclub, but stuff like thathappens," Jones said. "Fielding sometimes is just like hitting.Sometimes your confidence goes down defensively and errors follow."
Kevin Millwood, who had no-decisions in his previous two starts,went eight innings -- the longest outing of his five starts sincecoming off the disabled list -- and gave up six hits and five runs,just two earned.
Millwood, touched for single runs in the third and fourth, lentcredence to the notion the rotation is four-deep again with hisperformance. But the defensive lapses blunted whatever good feelings hemight have had about his outing.
"It's a little frustrating, but at the same time I can look tofive days ago and these guys picked me up in a big way," saidMillwood, who fell to 2-5. "I can deal with physical mistakes. I makethem, and there's not a player in the game who doesn't make them."
Schilling, now 17-5, manhandled a lineup that's been shutout sixtimes this season.
The only hits Schilling allowed in 6 1/3 innings were Marcus Giles'infield rollers in the first and fourth, and Giles didn't advancebeyond first base. Dave Martinez, who drew the start in left field onlybecause B.J. Surhoff was slowed by a sore quadriceps, bounced into a4-6-3 double play in the first, then with Giles on the move in thefourth, he chased a high fastball and struck out, and Giles was thrownout by catcher Miller.
"The big thing Schilling did was a lot of guys went up looking forheaters and didn't see any," Jones said. "We were getting splits andcurves and sliders, and never really made the adjustment."
In matching his career-high in wins, Schilling was ahead of all buttwo batters, making first-pitch strikes to 24 of 26 hitters.
"On a given night, when his control is a little better thannormal, he's arguably the best pitcher in the game," Diamondbacksmanager Bob Brenly said. "And the argument would come from ourleft-hander."
A dominant Schilling, and a porous Braves' defense. That's a deadlycombination in the heat of a pennant race.
Reach Bill Zack at email@example.com.
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