The Principality

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Braves Lose First Place After Another Anaemic Road Performance

 

The Braves’ trip to Pittsburgh was supposed to be the ideal time for them to assert some dominance on the road, facing the worst team in the Major Leagues.  However, now two games into the series, the Pirates are proving stiffer opposition than the Braves had imagined.  Tuesday, they sent ace Tim Hudson to the mound, but it was a case of same old story as the offence failed to show up and the Braves went down 5-0.

The defeat, the team’s fifth in six games, meant the chasing Philadelphia Phillies moved into first in the National League East by half a game following their win over Florida.  It is the first time the Braves have been out of first since May 30th and places a great deal of importance on the six games remaining between the two teams.

All the damage against the Braves came in the bottom of the seventh inning.  Until the seventh inning, Hudson was coasting.  He had thrown just 73 pitches and given up just three hits and no walks, retiring the first 12 batters he faced.  Then things just started to go wrong.  Hudson struck out Neil Walker to begin the inning, but then gave up back-to-back doubles to Jones and Alvarez, giving the Pirates the lead.

With first base open, Hudson intentionally walked Ryan Doumit to offer the chance of a double-play, but Ronny Cedeno hit a 91mph sinker to the center field wall for a two-RBI triple, ending Hudson’s night.  Peter Moylan retired the next batter and was replaced by Eric O’Flaherty who gave up a two-run home run to Delwyn Young and the damage was done.  Hudson’s final line was 6.1 innings for 6 hits and four runs, all earned.  He walked just one and struck out four, taking the loss.  The loss just about ends any chance Hudson had for the Cy Young Award.

Five runs down and the Braves were done.  Not even a 43-minute rain delay could help the cause.  Every time the Braves got something going, the opportunity was quickly snuffed out by a Pirates team playing for pride only.  The most frustrating came in the top of the sixth inning.  With one out, the Braves loaded the bases for Derrek Lee, but the former Chicago Cubs star continued his poor run of form with his new club, grounding into a tailor-made double-play to end the inning and the threat.

That is not to take anything away from the performance of Pirates’ starter, James McDonald.  McDonald picked up his third win of the season with a stellar 7-inning shutout performance.  The Braves could manage just five hits and three walks (two intentional) as once again they faltered on the road, falling to 30-41 away from Turner Field.

Hudson summed up the Braves’ night.  "It just stinks," he said.  "I felt like we should have won the ballgame, but just two pitches cost us the game. We didn't play good enough to win and they did. They played better than we did tonight. I feel like I should go out there, whether we're scoring runs or not, my job is to go out there and give up less than we get, and tonight, I just wasn't able to do that. I wasn't able to put up zeros when we needed it. Obviously, it's a nothing-nothing game late, you start realizing that one or two runs could be the difference in the game, and they had the big hit right there in the seventh and that's what did it for us."

The defeat far from ends the Braves’ season.  In contrast, thirteen of the remaining 23 games are at Turner Field, where the Braves have been dominant.  With one game left at PNC park tomorrow night, the Braves have just three series left on the road, visiting New York, Washington and crucially Philadelphia.  In their final road game outside the NL East tomorrow night, the Braves will aim to rebound from a three game losing streak and re-take first place in the East.  Derek Lowe (11-12) returns from injury to face Zach Duke (7-12) in what is surely a must-win game for the Braves.

Andrew Bracegirdle

7th September 2010