Closer Bob Wickman can't figure out what's wrong, and it's costing the Braves. The veteran closer was ineffective for the third consecutive appearance, two of which resulted in blown saves, two of which saw him removed mid-inning, and two of which ended in Braves losses.
"There has to be something wrong," Wickman said. "I can't get the ball to home plate. I can't throw a strike. It's pretty unusual for me not to throw strikes."
Brought in to protect a two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth on Sunday, Wickman walked three, hit a batter and allowed one hit in seven batters faced. That brought his alarming last three game totals to: 17 batters faced, five hits, six walks, one hit batter.
Asked if he could remember a similar stretch, Wickman said: "Not really. Not walking people. Giving up hits? That's a different story. But I can't remember not being able to throw a strike."
Manager Bobby Cox says Wickman will remain in the closer role, but probably after another day off Monday after throwing 24 pitches Sunday.
"For whatever reason, he's just off," Cox said. "He's been lights-out all year until [the last three appearances]."
The Braves were victims of only the 13th unassisted triple play in Major League history -- and the first since their own Rafael Furcal pulled one off Aug. 10, 2003, in St. Louis.
Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki executed this one in the seventh, after Kelly Johnson and Edgar Renteria hit back-to-back singles. With both runners moving on a 3-2 pitch, Tulowitzki snagged Chipper Jones' line drive, stepped on second, and then tagged Renteria, who was almost to second base.
"I just ran right into it," Renteria said. "It was a 3-2 pitch, and we were running. I think that's the only chance [for an unassisted triple play] -- [Runners on] first and second, running on the pitch, line drive."
Jeff Francoeur did it again -- another highlight-reel grab at a crucial moment, enhancing his growing reputation as one of the game's best clutch players.
This one came with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, when Clint Barmes' drive off Tyler Yates appeared to be a game-winner until Francoeur's diving, sliding grab. This from the guy who also leads the National League with two-out RBIs this season with 18, and leads the Major Leagues in that category since the start of the 2006 season with 71.
Two nights earlier, Francoeur preserved the Braves' 9-7 victory (and helped Wickman) by going into the right-field corner to take a game-tying double away from Matt Holliday -- who got a measure of revenge on Sunday by hitting a game-winning two-run homer off Steve Colyer.
"Frenchy did it again," Cox said.
And there was a breakout game from Scott Thorman -- 4-for-4 including a towering solo home run and four RBIs -- good enough to raise his batting average from an unimpressive .227 to a very solid .292 over a three-hour, 40-minute game.
"The more at-bats I get, the more comfortable I feel," Thorman said. "My approach has been better. I'm more relaxed, and letting my swing take over.
"This is a tough one to swallow. We showed a lot of great qualities as a team today. We came back a bunch of times [to erase an early 4-1 deficit]. There were a lot of positives in this game."
After Kyle Davies battled with his command through four innings and 93 pitches, and Oscar Villarreal allowed a solo homer in the fifth, Peter Moylan threw two scoreless innings. Rafael Soriano added another, and the Braves scored single runs in the eighth and ninth to build a 7-5 lead.
Following Wickman's meltdown and 1 1/3 hitless innings from Yates, Cox was down to Colyer and Mike Gonzalez for the bottom of the 11th. He went to Colyer in a tie game, but said he would have gone to Gonzalez if the Braves had a lead to protect -- even though Gonzalez was supposed to get a day off.
Colyer struck out Garrett Atkins and walked Todd Helton before Holliday unloaded on a fastball, belting it over the center-field wall.
"He's a good hitter," Colyer said. "I'm not going to let him beat me on anything else but my best pitch."
Tony DeMarco is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.