ATLANTA - A week ago, Bobby Cox scoffed at the notion this would be an easy home stand for the Braves, despite their three sub-.500 series opponents. More and more, it seems his reaction wasn't just manager-speak.
Initially hopeful of making it a dominant home stand, Atlanta will now have to win its next two games just to make it a victorious one at all. The Braves are just 4-4 since the All-Star break after losing 4-2 Friday to the St. Louis Cardinals at Turner Field.
Juan Encarnacion drove in the go-ahead run for St. Louis in the eighth inning, breaking a 1-1 tie. And Chris Duncan followed with an RBI single off reliever Rafael Soriano, sending Atlanta en route to its fourth loss in five games.
The Braves (51-46) scored their only run in the first inning and finished with just six hits before an announced crowd of 42,712. The meager output denied starter Chuck James his ninth win of the season - one he clearly earned on the mound.
James allowed just one run on six hits scattered over seven innings and improved his ERA to 3.58, the lowest it has been since early April. He has a 1.09 ERA over his last four starts, the previous three resulting in Braves wins.
Cardinals starter and Brunswick native Adam Wainwright practically gave away a run in the first. He allowed Willie Harris to reach first on a wild pitch, and second on another wild pitch. Harris then reached third on a passed ball and scored on a Chipper Jones single.
Jones has been one of the hottest hitters in baseball since his return from the disabled list June 13, entering Friday's game with a .388 average since then.
Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols has been almost as good of late, and came up with one out in the fourth. When Pujols hit a 1-1 pitch, James had the same reaction as Harris did in left field: turn and watch. The ball landed well into the left-field stands, making it a 1-1 game.
But James kept it tied by working out of a second-and-third, one-out jam in the fifth. After striking out Jim Edmonds to end the inning, James let out a rare burst of emotion on the mound, pumping his fist and running back to the dugout.
Atlanta hitters, though, would fare no better against Wainwright.
The resident of St. Simons allowed only the one run over seven innings, during which he allowed just six hits and struck out seven.
The game remained tied until Encarnacion broke it open in the eighth. The right fielder hit an RBI single and reached third when Harris' throw to home plate went wide of catcher Brian McCann.
The error would prove costly, as Duncan drove in Encarnacion to make it 3-1. Encarnacion added another run with a sac fly RBI in the ninth.
St. Louis added some drama in the bottom of the ninth, allowing Jeff Francoeur to score from third on a wild pitch by Jason Isringhausen. But Harris flied out to end the game.