ST. LOUIS - He is the closest thing to a sure bet the Braves have had. When Tim Hudson pitches, Atlanta can usually forget about its starting pitching problems, even if only for a few hours.
But as Chipper Jones grumbled a few days ago, "You can't take anything for granted this year."
Hudson saw his nine-game winning streak come to an end Saturday in a 5-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. And the Braves fell for the eighth time in 13 games, continuing what has been a disastrous road trip. Atlanta will rely on a pitcher who has never won a major-league game, Jo-Jo Reyes, today in the rubber game of the series.
St. Louis did not hit Hudson particularly hard, but got to him well enough to score all five of their runs in the fifth inning. Hudson did not return for the sixth, making it his shortest outing since July 5. He allowed nine hits and three walks, and lost for the first time since June 19. Hudson also drove in two runs Saturday, giving him six RBIs in his last five starts. His teammates, however, were far less successful at the plate, despite knocking Cardinals starter Joel Pineiro out of the game after four innings. Four Cardinals relievers combined to hold the Braves scoreless with just five hits over the final five innings.
Atlanta had runners on second and third with two outs in the ninth. But Andruw Jones struck out to end the game. Atlanta (67-63) is 15-20 in one-run decisions this year.
Before the game, manager Bobby Cox spoke optimistically about the rest of Atlanta's season, even though the Braves haven't had a winning month since April.
"I told the guys, 'We're still in this thing,'" Cox said. "If not in the division, then in the wild card. So we need to keep playing as hard as we can."
Playing hard wasn't an issue Saturday. Holding an early three-run lead, however, proved problematic. Hudson drove in Atlanta's first run with an RBI single in the second. Kelly Johnson led off the third with a solo homer to center, and Hudson made it 3-0 with an RBI single in the fourth. He held the Cardinals scoreless through the first four innings but was the victim of some unlucky breaks and suspect defense in the fifth.
Rick Ankiel got the Cards started with a broken-bat blooper to right to drive in a run. Albert Pujols chopped a grounder up the middle to drive in another. And shortstop Yunel Escobar was late breaking on a playable grounder off the bat of Jim Edmonds, allowing the ball to get through and another run to score.
With two outs, Scott Rolen hit an RBI single and So Taguchi hit a sac fly RBI to give St. Louis a 5-3 lead.
The Braves came back with a run in the sixth when Mark Teixeira singled with the bases loaded. But Brian McCann popped out to end the threat.
Mark Teixeira singled with one out in the ninth. And with two outs, Jeff Francoeur reached second on a throwing error by Rolen, moving Teixeira to third. But he would get no closer to home.