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Carlyle unravels late as Braves fall

Carlyle unravels late as Braves fall

SAN FRANCISCO -- When the Braves arrived in San Francisco earlier this week, they declared their desire to keep Barry Bonds homerless had nothing to do with history and everything to do with their desire to win a series.

By the time they'd completed their four-game set at AT&T Park on Thursday with a 4-2 loss to the Giants, they could take no solace in the fact that they'd preserved Hank Aaron's all-time homer record for at least another day. Instead, they could only face the reality that keeping Bonds in the yard did nothing to prevent splitting a series they felt they could have swept.

"Whether [Bonds] homered or not was the least of our worries," said Jeff Francoeur, whose fourth-inning, two-run homer accounted for Atlanta's only runs in the series finale. "We wanted to take three out of four out here and set ourselves up with a good opportunity. We just weren't able to take care of it."

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Before taking the field for this series finale, the Braves were well aware of the fact that Mets had already lost. But after a mistake-aided fifth-inning in which the Giants tallied three runs with two outs against Buddy Carlyle, they found themselves with a deficit that would lead to them facing the fact they still trail the front-running Mets by four games in the National League East race.

During the decisive three-run fifth, Pedro Feliz contributed a leadoff double and Dave Roberts heated things up with a two-run double that put him in position to score the deciding run on a Ray Durham RBI single. While surrendering the hits was maddening for Carlyle, more frustrating was the fact that he could have prevented Roberts and Durham from coming to the plate.

With one out and Giants rookie starting pitcher Tim Lincecum waiting on deck, Omar Vizquel hit a chopper between the mound and first base. Carlyle raced to grab the ball out of the air, and by the time it was in his glove, he gained a helpless feeling created by the fact that neither he nor first baseman Scott Thorman was covering the bag.

"I made a mistake," Carlyle said. "That's my fault. I've got to go to the base. In my head, I was going to get to the ball and I thought I could get it. Then it just went to far. I know better."

Through the first four innings, Carlyle kept the Giants scoreless. But after Vizquel added some insurance with his sixth-inning RBI double, he found himself charged with four earned runs and nine hits in 5 2/3 innings. The effort resulted in his first loss in six starts. The Braves had won seven of the previous nine games the 29-year-old right-hander had started.

"I felt pretty good," Carlyle said. "It's a frustrating game, because I know they scored four runs with two outs. If I could have made some better pitches with two outs, it might have been a different ballgame."

Lincecum, the 23-year-old hard-throwing rookie phenom who is 6-2 with a 3.90 ERA through the first 15 starts of his Major League career, limited the Braves to two earned runs and six hits in six innings. The only damage he incurred came in the fourth inning when Francoeur deposited a hanging curveball over the left-field wall for his first homer in 57 at-bats. Francoeur, who is hitting .356 (36-for-101) since June 26, was unable to take advantage of basehits supplied by Brian McCann in the sixth and eighth innings. His sixth-inning grounder resulted in the second out, and his eighth-inning strikeout left runners stranded at second and third base.

"We just didn't have enough to do it today," said Francoeur, who bore some of the offensive burden on a day that Chipper Jones rested a sore right groin and Edgar Renteria rested a tired body. They both made ninth-inning pinch-hit appearances to account for the game's final outs.

While recording three hits in 12 at-bats and drawing two walks -- neither of which were intentional -- Bonds couldn't say the Braves didn't challenge him. His bid to achieve history against Aaron's Braves was officially put to an end when he was replaced with a pinch-runner after seeing Andruw Jones turn his single into a double in the seventh inning off Oscar Villarreal.

"I'd have rather won the game and given up a home run," said Carlyle, who had no trouble keeping Bonds hitless in three at-bats. "If we could've won the game and he'd have taken me deep twice, I wouldn't have really cared."

After being kept inside the park this week, Bonds finds himself entering this weekend's series against the Marlins still two homers shy of matching Aaron's record of 755. With his two-homer effort last Thursday accounting for his only two homers in his past 44 at-bats, there's still reason to believe he might still be chasing the record when the Giants visit Turner Field Aug. 14-16.

If this occurs, there will be reason to wonder if it's been destined for him to break the record across the street from where Aaron established it 33 years ago. Whatever the case, manager Bobby Cox will once again instruct his pitchers to be aggressive with Bonds, with the hope that keeping him homerless will at least provide better results than were realized this week in San Francisco.

"We pitched to him every time," Cox said. "We've still got all the respect in the world against him. When we face him again in Atlanta, we'll see."

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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