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Braves frustrated in duel with Dodgers

Braves frustrated in duel with Dodgers

LOS ANGELES -- When the Braves packed their equipment and began their drive to San Diego late Wednesday night, they might have wanted to leave their bats behind. The lumber that they brought to Dodger Stadium this week didn't exactly prove to be a productive supply.

Twice in a span of three days, Braves manager Bobby Cox was forced to wonder if his team was going to be victimized by a perfect game. More importantly, twice in a span of three days, he was also tipping his cap to one of the Dodgers starters and tasting the bitterness of another road defeat.

While Derek Lowe might not have been perfect Wednesday, the sinkerball was certainly nasty enough to further frustrate the Braves and give Andruw Jones an opportunity to deliver the decisive blow against Tim Hudson and his former teammates.

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Jones' seventh-inning RBI single provided the difference in the Dodgers' 2-1 win over the Braves, who have lost each of their past 24 consecutive road games that have been decided by one run.

"They shut us down and we shut them down," said Cox, whose team will play three games in San Diego before heading into next week's All-Star break. "They just got a dribbler up the middle."

It might have been a dribbler to some. But to some Dodgers fans, who had seen Jones enter this game hitting just .168 and batting just .050 with runners in scoring position, this was just the clutch hit they've been waiting all season to receive from the former Braves Gold Glove center fielder.

After Nomar Garciaparra began the bottom of the seventh with a single and advanced to second base on a groundout, Russell Martin was intentionally walked. Considering Jones had recorded just two hits in his 40 previous at-bats with runners in scoring position this year, it was certainly a calculated move.

Unfortunately for Hudson, the always pull-happy Jones made it a costly move when he reached out and directed a cut-fastball away back up the middle. Instead of being an inning-ending ground ball, it was a game-deciding ground ball.

"I got the ground ball that I wanted," said Hudson, who allowed two earned runs and four hits in seven innings. "But we didn't have anybody playing there."

There were plenty of grounders produced during this impressive pitching exhibition provided by two sinkerballers. Lowe allowed just one run on two hits in 7 2/3 innings and he saw his perfect-game bid end when Gregor Blanco began the seventh inning with a single.

Lowe, who had lost three of his previous five starts, surrendered his only run when Jeff Francoeur opened the eighth with his first homer since June 12. Francoeur, who was optioned to Double-A Mississippi on Friday and recalled Monday, obviously wished he could have enjoyed his ninth homer of the season under better circumstances.

"It's unbelievable," Francoeur said of Lowe, who improved his record to 7-8 and beat the Braves for just the second time in 10 career starts. "You can see he's got a losing record and then you come away and wonder how he ever gives up a hit. He pretty much made two mistakes all night."

For a little while, there was reason to wonder if Lowe was going to be even a little better than his teammate Hiroki Kuroda, who limited the Braves to just a Mark Teixeira eighth-inning double in Monday night's shutout victory. But Blanco's hit at least ended his bid for history one inning earlier.

Blanco then alertly hustled to third when Dodgers third baseman Garciaparra charged a Yunel Escobar chopper that resulted in the inning's first out. But Chipper Jones, who went hitless during 10 at-bats during the series, and Teixeira were both retired without creating any damage. Jones' Major League-best batting average has dropped to .375.

"I thought for sure we were going to score," Cox said. "But Lowe made some good pitches there. ... Sometimes you've got to tip your cap. [The Dodgers] have got the best complete pitching staff that we've probably seen."

Matt Kemp's two-out, sixth-inning solo homer gave the Dodgers the initial lead. After getting ahead with a 3-0 count, Kemp drilled Hudson's 3-1 fastball over the center-field wall. This marked the third homer the Braves right-hander has surrendered to a right-handed batter this year, and each of those three homers has come in a span of his past three starts.

"It's unfortunate that two pitches can cost you the game," Hudson said. "But that was the case tonight."

For a while, this pitching exhibition was about as good as anybody could have ever seen. Before Dodgers first baseman James Loney began the bottom of the fifth with a double, Hudson and Lowe had combined to retire the first 27 batters of the game.

There wasn't much indication that these two pitchers were going to share this kind of dominance. Hudson had allowed 11 earned runs while totaling just seven innings in his previous two starts at Dodger Stadium. As for Lowe, he had won just two of his previous nine career starts against the Braves and he had surrendered five runs -- three earned -- and eight hits in 4 1/3 innings against them at Turner Field on April 18.

Even factoring in Wednesday night's 9-3 win, the Braves offense had its struggles throughout this series. During each of the first four innings in these three games, they went hitless in 36 at-bats.

"We've had some tough luck all year," Hudson said. "It's seemed like all the tough breaks have gone against us."

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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