Cardinals drop second straight

Cardinals drop second straight

ATLANTA -- Some credit must go to the Braves, and some blame to a stiff wind that kept some potential home runs in the ballpark. But however you divvy up the responsibility, an inability to convert on offensive chances doomed the Cardinals on Sunday afternoon.

Missed opportunities were the story of the day for St. Louis in a 2-1 loss to Atlanta at Turner Field on Sunday, as the Cards lost only their second series of the year. The Cardinals left at least one runner on base in every inning as John Smoltz and the Atlanta bullpen worked out of trouble all day.

"Normally, good pitchers do that," said John Mabry, who was 1-for-3 with a walk. "They don't give in. They never give in. And he's one of those guys.

"We hit some hard balls that were right at people. We hit some balls that were possibly out of the ballpark. It's one of those things. You're gonna have games where you hit the ball hard and score no runs. You're gonna have games where you hit the ball [poorly] and score a lot of runs. That's baseball."

The Cardinals left 13 men on in Sunday's game, and went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. Over the series' final 15 innings, they scored one run and left men on base in 14 frames. In the 26 innings following their first-inning assault on Tim Hudson on Friday, Redbirds batters went 3-for-25 with runners in scoring position.

That's a good way not to win, even if you pitch well -- which the Cardinals did on Saturday and Sunday. Jeff Suppan twirled seven strong innings, but took just his second road loss since becoming a member of the Cardinals. Suppan allowed one baserunner over the first five innings. He got into trouble in the sixth with a leadoff walk, Rafael Furcal's RBI double and Ryan Langerhans' run-scoring single.

"I think it really all boiled down to a leadoff walk and a bad changeup," Suppan said. "Smoltz was throwing the ball well, and that's what happens. Two runs were enough for him today. You've just got to take it inning-by-inning when you're going up against a pitcher like him, and unfortunately, I gave up two in the sixth and he came out with a win."

Wilson Betemit's walk to open the sixth provided Atlanta with its first baserunner with fewer than two outs, and when Smoltz sacrificed him to second, the Braves had their first chance with a man on second or third. Furcal came through, as did Langerhans, and that was the difference in the game. In the span of two batters, the Braves got as many hits with runners in scoring position as the Cardinals managed in the series' last two games.

Yet the Cardinals undeniably hit the ball hard more than once or twice. Rolen absolutely hammered a ball with two men on in the fifth, and it looked for all the world like he'd crushed a two-run homer. Jim Edmonds' double, which scored St. Louis' only run, appeared as if it was going to get out of the park as well. Even Edmonds' flyout in the ninth looked like it had a chance.

"The game that I watched, it's hard to have better at-bats than that," said manager Tony La Russa. "We had outstanding at-bats and we made more contact than one run. Three balls brought back in the ballpark. Jim hits two. I thought our hitters had a really good day, but that's baseball."

Rolen finished with a hit and a walk in five plate appearances, but went 0-for-2 with RISP, extending his season-long frustration in RBI situations. Overall, he's 5-for-29 in RBI situations after hitting .358 in those situations last season. Still, he was extremely close to a sixth hit, and three more runs driven in.

"I can't hit a ball any harder than that," he said of his fifth-inning flyout. "I don't know if I need to get in the weight room or what. That's as hard as I can hit a ball."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.