Estrada goes down in loss

Braves' Estrada hurt in loss to Angels

ATLANTA -- Just when it looked as if the Braves might right themselves, a jarring blow furthered their struggles and left them wondering if the evening's pivotal moment had robbed them of the availability of yet another of their top players.

It wasn't only that they had blown a slim eighth-inning lead and lost for the 16th time in their past 26 games that had the Braves disgusted. It was the reality that the winning run in their 4-2 loss to the Angels at Turner Field on Monday night, had come at the expense of Johnny Estrada's health.

"That's just par for the course right now," said Adam LaRoche, who was one of the many Braves who didn't think Darin Erstad had to hit Estrada in the head during a collision, which jarred lose the baseball and allowed him to score the winning run in this Interleague battle between a pair of teams that had never faced each other before.

As Estrada lay writhing in pain after finding himself on the wrong end of the collision with Erstad, who had raced from first base on Garret Anderson's two-run double, reached back over him and touched the plate.

The Braves medical staff raced on the field and tended to Estrada, who was helped off the field and taken to Piedmont Hospital for further evaluations. He likely suffered a concussion and could have also suffered injuries to his neck or shoulder, the Braves said.

"I don't mind the hit, I mind the location of the hit," Julio Franco said. "Hitting a guy in the face like that could cause a lot of major damage."

Most of the Braves, who gave John Smoltz a 2-1 lead entering the eighth on the strength of a LaRoche's fourth-inning, two-run homer, said they hadn't seen the replays. But as Estrada lay on the ground both Eddie Perez and Brian Jordan were yelling toward the Angels dugout and indicating they thought Erstad should have been sliding.

"It all depends what you call clean," Franco said. "I thought he could have slid clean. But I've played against Erstad and his mentality isn't my mentality. He plays the game like a football player. ... He had a clean plate. But that's the way he plays the game."

Erstad, who was the punter for the 1994 University of Nebraska football team that won the national championship, is an aggressive player who, after the game, was simply hoping Estrada would prove to be fine.

"You play and you play as hard as you can to help your team win," Erstad said. "You just don't want to see those type of situations. I just hope he's OK."

If the Braves lose Estrada, it will just add to their rash of injuries. Just hours before Monday's game they placed Chipper Jones on the 15-day disabled list, where he joined starting pitchers Mike Hampton and John Thomson.

"Nobody is going to feel sorry for us -- nobody in our division and nobody in baseball," Smoltz said. "It's unfortunate the rate that it's happening. But we've still got to find ways to win a baseball game. We're finding ways to lose it."

Smoltz allowed the Angels four earned runs on a season-high 13 hits in a season-long 8 1/3 innings. It was a line that didn't seem indicative of a hurler who had retired the first 14 batters he faced and threw 87 of his 114 pitches for strikes.

"I'm going to do my very best to take this game and roll with it," Smoltz said. "I can't concern myself with the results because they certainly don't match up with how I felt."

After seeing his perfect evening end with three consecutive two-out singles in the fifth, Smoltz didn't allow another hit until Steve Finley doubled with two outs in the sixth. It was the only ball that was hit over a Braves outfielder's head against Smoltz, the necessary spark that put the Angels in position to score their first run.

Finley advanced to third base on a balk call that Smoltz said second-base umpire Brian Runge immediately admitted he called wrong. From there, the veteran outfielder jogged home when Anderson's liner up the middle fell out of the glove of diving shortstop Rafael Furcal.

"It's a tough lineup," Smoltz said. "I feel like I pitched them great all night long and unfortunately they won."

Most of the Angels' damage came in their three-run eighth inning, which began with consecutive singles by Chone Figgins and Erstad. One out later, Anderson drilled Smoltz's first pitch into the right-field corner for the two-run double that could have lasting consequence for the Braves.

"I made one bad pitch that whole inning and it was to Garret Anderson, their best hitter, and he hit a double," Smoltz said. "Unfortunately because of that, who knows how long we're losing Johnny."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.