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Braves drop tough one to Mets

Hudson, Braves drop tough one to Mets

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NEW YORK -- What had the possibility of being a very productive weekend for the Braves has been nothing short of excruciatingly painful.

Given the chance to come into Shea Stadium and gain some ground on the Mets, the Braves have instead wasted numerous opportunities and consequently now find themselves with the largest division deficit they've had in the past 13 years.

During both of the first two games of this three-game series, the Braves have allowed the Mets to rally with four-run seventh innings. Consequently, they've suffered two more of those one-run losses that are becoming far too familiar.

"You've got to learn how to win late," Chipper Jones said after the Braves blew another seventh-inning lead and came up just short in Saturday's 6-5 loss to the Mets.

"You've got to learn how to come through with the big hits," Jones added. "You've got to learn how to make the big pitch, make the big play in the field. All those things, we're just not doing them, plain and simple."

With losses in the first two games of this series, the Braves now trail the front-running Mets by nine games in the National League East. This is the largest deficit they've encountered since trailing the Giants by nine games on Aug. 11, 1993.

"We've lost a couple of tough games," Tim Hudson, Saturday's losing pitcher, said. "Both games could have gone either way. It's really tough. But there's a lot of baseball left to play. We've just got to get things going our way."

It's not as if the Braves have created this deficit while getting pounded on a regular basis. They've played 30 games and seen 16 of those, including these past two, be decided by just one run. Unfortunately for them, they've emerged the victor in just five of those contests.

"We've got to do a little better job of making a pitch here and there and have a little better at-bat here and there," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "But overall the effort is there."

There was no reason to criticize the effort provided Friday night, when they squandered both a four-run seventh-inning lead and an 11th-inning advantage. But like Saturday, there have been plenty of reasons to wonder whether the relatively young Braves club has the ability to come through in clutch situations.

Adam LaRoche's solo homer in the top of the seventh inning gave the Braves a one-run lead. But by the time the eighth-inning arrived, that advantage had turned into a three-run deficit. New York's latest four-run seventh inning came courtesy of the fact that Hudson surrendered four hits and to the first five batters he faced.

Kaz Matsui highlighted the seventh inning by drilling Hudson's 3-2 fastball to deep right field for a two-run double. But the damage was created at the start of the inning when Xavier Nady reached with a leadoff bloop single. Had Andruw Jones not left the game earlier in the inning because of a sore back, the ball may have been caught and the Mets may not have staged their rally.

Instead, Ryan Langerhans was playing much deeper than Jones normally does in center field. That provided Nady the opportunity to get things started against Hudson, who allowed six earned runs and nine hits in 6 1/3 innings.

"I felt pretty good," Hudson said. "I just got in a little jam there in the seventh and got a couple of pitches up. They got a bloop hit to start the inning and I made a good pitch on Matsui. He just was looking [inside]. I probably went in there one too many times."

While Matsui's double was big, the seventh inning's decisive run scored when Peter Moylan issued two consecutive walks, including one with the bases loaded to David Wright. It was just another instance where the club was hurt by one of its inexperienced players.

"To be honest with you, I'm not even paying attention to the standings," Chipper Jones said. "I'm worried about going out and getting wins and developing some confidence and getting some of these pitchers some experience.

"Everybody who walks out there, their eyes are wide and they're wondering how they're going to get people out, instead of knowing they're going to get people out."

One of the game's toughest outs this year has been Edgar Renteria, whose sixth-inning double extended his Major League-best hitting streak to 22 games, matching his career best. But when Renteria was needed the most on Saturday, he couldn't take advantage of a chance to end his team's one-run misfortunes.

With runners at the corners and two outs, Jorge Julio, who had already surrendered a ninth-inning RBI single to Matt Diaz, regained his control long enough to get Renteria to end the game with a groundout. Julio earned the save in place of Mets closer Billy Wagner, who threw two innings on Friday night.

One inning earlier, just after a Brian Jordan RBI single, it was LaRoche who had the opportunity to procure another run. But the left-handed first baseman was unable to come up big in consecutive innings. He looked at three strikes from southpaw Pedro Feliciano, leaving Renteria stranded at third base.

"It's not a matter of effort," said John Smoltz who will pitch on short rest in Sunday's series finale. "It's just a matter of finding a way to win these kinds of games."

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

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