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Braves' rally comes up just short

ATLANTA - Teenage tennis sensation Melanie Oudin had "BELIEVE" written on our shoes during the U.S. Open. Now the Braves have adopted the motto.

But despite her string of impressive upsets, Oudin didn't make it past the quarterfinals. Will Atlanta come up a little short, too?

Florida interrupted the Braves' playoff push, snapping Atlanta's seven-game winning streak with a 5-4 victory on a nippy Tuesday night at Turner Field that had all the tension and excitement of fall baseball.

Many in the crowd of 28,669 had placards or stick-on labels reading "BELIEVE" and "Braves" in blue and red. That didn't help bring any magic this time, though.

The loss was just Atlanta's third in the past 18 games. Any loss is costly, however, as the Braves try to chase down Colorado for the National League wild-card spot with just five days left in the regular season.

Matt Diaz hit a three-run homer in the sixth inning to tie the game, but the Marlins quickly went back on top in the seventh on an RBI single by Jorge Cantu off Braves reliever Kenshin Kawakami.

Brought in after Tim Hudson lasted just five innings in a shaky outing, Kawakami allowed a leadoff double to hot-hitting rookie Chris Coghlan in his second inning and Hanley Ramirez - the National League's leading hitter - was intentionally walked after a sacrifice. With runners on the corners, cleanup-hitter Cantu singled and Florida was up for good.

Atlanta put two on in the seventh and one in the eighth without scoring, but the real frustration came in the ninth. Chipper Jones hit into a double play after Martin Prado had led off with an infield single and Brian McCann popped out to end the game.

Javier Vazquez, who has won four straight starts, pitches for the Braves tonight in the series finale.

The veteran right-hander has a 15-9 record and 2.83 ERA, but is 0-2 with a 5.68 ERA in four starts against Florida this season.

Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco (12-9) spent time early this season in the minors before getting back on track. He is 10-4 with a 4.11 ERA since returning from Class AAA New Orleans.

Washington follows Florida to Atlanta for a four-game series beginning Thursday.

Fox TV apparently believes in the Braves. Saturday's game against the last-place Nats has been moved to 4:10 p.m. for a national broadcast.

While the Braves are finishing the season against Washington, Colorado has to play three games at Los Angeles this weekend after finishing its home series with Milwaukee on Thursday.

If the Braves and Rockies finish the regular-season in a wild-card tie, a play-in game would be held Monday in Atlanta. The teams split their eight games during the regular season, but the Braves get to host the game because of a better record within its own division.

Hudson beat the Marlins in Florida on Sept. 1 in his first start after coming back from reconstructive elbow surgery. He wasn't nearly as effective this time, giving up an RBI double to the opposing pitcher and a pair of home runs.

When the starting pitchers for the series were originally announced, it looked like Atlanta had caught a break by not having to face Florida ace Josh Johnson. But Johnson, who missed his start Sunday against New York because of the flu, was well enough to pitch against the Braves and they suffered for it in two ways.

Johnson, who came in 15-5, held Atlanta to one run over five innings and drove in Florida's first run. He allowed just three hits, but walked four and hit a batter.

Johnson had an RBI double in the second inning after trying to bunt earlier, the scoring staying at 1-0 only because a second runner was thrown out at the plate. Dan Uggla then went deep for his 31st homer in the fourth inning and rookie Cameron Maybin hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning to make it 4-1.

Hudson allowed seven hits in his five innings, walking three and striking out five.

Atlanta's run off Johnson came in the fourth. Jones walked, went to third base on a single by McCann and scored on Garret Anderson's sacrifice fly.

Obviously tiring, Johnson escaped a major jam in the fifth inning to depart with the lead. The Braves loaded the bases on two walks and single by Prado, but McCann popped out to end the threat.

Atlanta came back to tie when Diaz blasted his 13th homer of the season and eighth for his career against Florida off reliever Brian Sanches after a walk and hit batter in the sixth inning.

But it was the only clutch hit of the night for the Braves, who were left to watch the scoreboard and hope that Milwaukee would give them some help in Colorado.