Originally created 05/10/04

Bad bats hang ace with loss to Astros



ATLANTA - Russ Ortiz pitched like the ace of the Braves' staff Sunday afternoon. His teammates played like jokers.

Ortiz turned in as good a pitching performance as Atlanta has seen this year, but a porous offense and a pair of mental miscues doomed the Braves to a 2-1 loss to the Houston Astros before a crowd of 26,825 at Turner Field.

"We wasted a tremendous job by Russ," said manager Bobby Cox, whose team's record fell to 14-16 overall and 0-9 when scoring two runs or less. "He couldn't have pitched better. He was dominant really."

Ortiz limited the Astros to two hits - one a routine ground ball that took a bad hop - and pitched a perfect game for four innings . He matched Houston starter Andy Pettitte, who also allowed just two hits but struggled with his control, walking four batters in six innings.

"This is the way I want to pitch," Ortiz said. "I just have to take that attitude, that approach to every start."

He'll need to instill it in his teammates as well. Atlanta's offense managed a season-low three hits, and a questionable fielding decision by shortstop Wilson Betemit and a bases-loaded walk by reliever Kevin Gryboski led to both Houston runs.

"It's frustrating to me to put the team in position to win and have it fall apart," Ortiz said. "But you'll have games like that."

Atlanta's had several similar games this season, including its other loss in the weekend series to the Astros (20-11). The Braves lost Friday's opener 5-3 because of their anemic offense.

It's what cost Ortiz (3-4) the win . He retired the first 12 batters he faced, striking out six of them.

Jeff Kent's bad-hop double broke up the perfect game in the fifth inning with an otherwise routine ground ball to shortstop. The ball hit a pebble in the infield dirt and caromed off Betemit's shoulder into shallow left field.

A mental error by Betemit compounded the play later in the inning. Betemit, called up from Class AAA Richmond on Saturday, fielded a ground ball and elected to throw out the lead runner at third base.

But Kent beat the throw, and Brad Ausmus drove him home with a sacrifice fly to tie the game at 1-1.

Two of the Braves' three hits were back-to-back doubles in the fourth inning and resulted in Atlanta's only run. J.D. Drew started the scoring rally by slicing a ball down the left-field line. Johnny Estrada followed with an RBI double into the outfield gap.



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