Physical and mental errors helped the Mets gain some cushion with the two-run seventh inning they produced against Takashi Saito. But when the Braves look back on how they lost their third consecutive game, they'll focus on the fact that their recently anemic offense allowed Hisanori Takahashi to relieve an injured John Maine and register seven strikeouts while allowing just one run in three innings.
"[Takahashi] pitched great," McLouth said. "He was throwing all of his pitches for strikes, and we obviously had zero success against him. He pitched great, and that was the difference in the game."
Takahashi entered the game with just nine strikeouts in the previous eight innings he had completed during his young career. But this just continues a maddening theme for the Braves, who were also baffled this week by Kyle Kendrick, who entered Tuesday's matchup with an ERA north of 17, and the 47-year-old Jamie Moyer.
During their past six games, dating back to the no-hitter that Ubaldo Jimenez fashioned against them on April 17, the Braves have hit just .194 (36-for-186). Over the course of their past 11 games, they have hit just .214 (76-for-355).
The Braves have lost three in a row since hitting back-to-back two-out homers in the ninth inning of Tuesday night's 10-inning walk-off win over the Phillies.
"Offensively, we can't get anything strung together," Jones said. "We'll get a chance for a big inning, and we just can't seem to get the big hit to break it open. That will come eventually."
Jones' two-out single in the third inning accounted for the only offense the Braves produced against Maine, the Mets right-hander who exited with two outs in the fourth inning because of muscle spasms and pain in his left elbow. But what looked like an opportunity turned into a couple of frustrating innings for the Braves, who saw Takahashi strike out six of the first eight hitters he faced.
Omar Infante, who enjoyed a three-hit performance while subbing at shortstop for Yunel Escobar, delivered a seventh-inning leadoff double to account for the first of two hits surrendered by Takahashi. The second, a two-out RBI single by Martin Prado, simply halved the two-run lead the Mets had gained in the sixth inning off Kawakami.
Mets rookie first baseman Ike Davis led off the fifth inning with a homer that traveled an estimated 450 feet, tied the game and admittedly put pressure on Kawakami, who has seen the Braves score two runs or fewer in 16 of his 30 career starts.
"After giving up that first run, a lot of pressure started coming toward me, because [the lack of run support] was in the back of my mind," Kawakami said through his interpreter.
Consecutive one-out triples by Jose Reyes and Jason Bay doomed Kawakami, who surrendered David Wright's deep sacrifice fly before ending his six-inning stint without any further damage. The Japanese hurler, who has lost each of his first three starts, was charged with three earned runs and six hits.
"He pitched another great game," manager Bobby Cox said. "We just can't get him any runs at all."
The Braves' best scoring threat was thwarted when Heyward struck out with the bases loaded in the third inning. The 20-year-old right fielder, who struck out two more times, had delivered a walk-off single and drawn two walks in his only other three plate appearances with the bases loaded.
Still, even with all of their offensive struggles, the Braves nearly tied the game in the ninth, when McLouth pulled a Francisco Rodriguez pitch just past the right-field foul pole. But moments after nearly tying the game with a three-run shot, the center fielder struck out for the fourth time on the night.
Had the ball been fair, McLouth would have erased the insurance runs the Mets gained in the seventh inning after Jones dropped a Reyes pop fly after the infield fly rule had already been put in effect. Not knowing that the runners on first and second base could advance at their own risk, McCann threw to first, mistakenly believing that Luis Castillo still had to tag up.
Then, with McCann looking for a ruling and standing to the right of the pitcher's mound, Angel Pagan easily raced toward the unguarded plate for the first of the two runs the Mets scored in the seventh.
"I don't really know what happened after the drop," Jones said. "It was chaos."
Chaos, followed by the familiar sense of frustration the Braves have felt from an offensive perspective far too often over the past week.