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Kawakami's effort not enough for Atlanta

Kawakami's effort not enough for Atlanta

SAN FRANCISCO -- Kenshin Kawakami gave the Braves some indication that they might at least gain some satisfaction after waiting through a long rain delay Sunday. But while providing yet another strong effort against one of the game's elite pitchers, the Japanese hurler was victimized by Pablo Sandoval's bat and Tim Lincecum's ability to show why he has won the past two National League Cy Young Awards.

Lincecum overcame a rough first inning and then gained a well-deserved victory when Mark DeRosa's two-out, sixth-inning single drew a slightly errant throw from Jason Heyward and consequently allowed the Giants to claim a lead that they would not relinquish on the way to claiming a 6-3 win over the Braves at a rain-soaked AT&T Park.

"It was miserable out there," said All-Star catcher Brian McCann, who gave the Braves an early lead with his two-run, first-inning homer off Lincecum. "That wind was howling in every different direction. Those games are hard to play."

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After seeing the start of the game delayed by rain for four hours and nine minutes, the Braves may have gained a better appreciation for the conditions had they not been forced to watch Sandoval deliver a three-hit performance that backed Lincecum, who recorded 10 strikeouts and retired 14 of the final 16 hitters that he faced.

"He's the best pitcher in the game," McCann said of the 25-year-old Giants right-hander who is known as "The Freak." "It was almost like he turned on another gear after the home run. His changeup is close to unhittable."

When Kawakami needed just 30 pitches to prove perfect through the first three innings, it looked like he was once again that same "big game" pitcher who provided his best starts last year while being opposed by Roy Halladay and Clayton Kershaw. But the 34-year-old right-hander's run of perfection ended with Sandoval's two-out, fourth-inning triple and the lead he held during the first five innings was erased when Heyward fielded DeRosa's two-out single and unleashed a throw that was slightly up the third-base line.

Heyward's throw hit a sliding Sandoval and ricocheted into foul territory on the first-base side behind the plate. Running from first base on the single, Aubrey Huff immediately saw the unfortunate bounce and raced to the plate with a go-ahead run that erased the two-run lead the Braves had gained with McCann's first-inning blast.

Sandoval had reached on a two-out single that raced past the third-base bag and Huff drew a six-pitch walk -- the only one issued by Kawakami, who found the strike zone with 42 of his 65 pitches and recorded 11 ground-ball outs.

"Kawakami was outstanding," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He had two outs that inning and then [Sandoval's] little ground ball over the bag and then the ball skipped, hit the runner and then all of the sudden we were behind. It almost seemed impossible."

Heyward drilled a ninth-inning solo shot off left-hander Jeremy Affeldt. But while delivering his second opposite-field homer in as many days, the 20-year-old outfielder wasn't able to erase the damage done by Sandoval, who capped his three-hit performance with an impressive two-run, eighth-inning homer off Kris Medlen.

Once the Braves lost the lead in the bottom of the sixth, they were forced to pinch-hit for Kawakami in the top of the seventh inning. That put an end to a strong season debut for the veteran right-hander, who also experienced misfortune in the fourth inning when the windy conditions led Heyward to mistakenly think that Sandoval's high fly ball was going to at least bounce off the tall brick wall in right field.

After his long drive instead fell on the warning track, Sandoval cruised into third with a triple. Moments later, Huff took advantage of a defensive shift with an infield single through the left side.

"That's as good as I've ever seen [Kawakami]," Cox said. "It's a shame, because he only had like 60 pitches and he could have gone nine innings before we got behind. I was pleased with his outing, very much. He's not going to pitch any better than that. You've got to have luck."

When told of Cox's assessment, Kawakami's response through his interpreter was, "I really appreciate the kind words, but it's my lack of pitching that gave us a loss today."

McCann added a sixth-inning single to improve his career batting average against Lincecum to .421 (8-for-19). But the Braves didn't do too much else against the Giants right-hander, who threw just 10 of his 22 first-inning pitches for strikes and then ended his 108-pitch outing with a perfect seventh inning that encompassed three strikeouts.

Nine of Lincecum's strikeouts came after Martin Prado doubled with one out in the third inning. He followed the Prado double with consecutive strikeouts of Eric Hinske and McCann.

"He settled down and was almost like a strikeout machine going out there," Cox said. "He's really tough."

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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