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Punto's 11th-inning triple leads Cards past Braves

Photo by John Amis

Photo by John Amis

ATLANTA (AP) -- On a tough day for the Braves, Nick Punto just added to their misery.

Punto drove in two runs with an 11th-inning triple after St. Louis rallied in the ninth, giving the surging Cardinals a 5-3 victory over Atlanta on Friday night.

Braves rookie Cory Gearrin (0-1) dug his own hole, plunking Ryan Theriot in the left leg and walking pinch-hitter Mark Hamilton. The right-hander was one out away from escaping, but Punto drove one into the right-field corner for the first big league hit allowed by Gearrin in 4 2-3 innings since being called up.

"I was looking for a fastball. I got a fastball, middle in, and put some good wood on it," Punto said. "It didn't hit anybody. It landed in the corner, so we got a couple of runs."

Eduardo Sanchez (1-0) earned his first big league win with two scoreless innings. Trever Miller got the final out for his first save, retiring Nate McLouth on a drive to the warning track with a runner aboard.

"A hellacious game," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. "I can't feel better about our club."

In the ninth, Yadier Molina and Ryan Theriot reached on singles against hard-throwing Braves closer Craig Kimbrel before Daniel Descalso tied it up with a sacrifice fly, his second RBI of the game.

The Cardinals got an extra chance for the go-ahead run when first baseman Freddie Freeman botched a slow roller. But shortstop Alex Gonzalez picked up his teammate with a brilliant defensive play, going to one knee to snare Colby Rasmus' bullet up the middle.

It didn't matter. St. Louis won it two innings later, its 13th win in 18 games since starting 2-6.

"Our whole club feels good," La Russa said. "Everybody contributed."

Jason Heyward homered in the first and McLouth put the Braves ahead 3-2 with a tie-breaking shot in the seventh. Atlanta couldn't hold the lead, capping a tough day with a tough loss and missing a chance to go above .500 for the first time since April 5.

A win would've helped the Braves feel a bit better after Derek Lowe was arrested the previous night on a drunken-driving charge, and pitching coach Roger McDowell was placed on administrative leave while the team investigated allegations that he made homophobic slurs, lewd gestures and threatened a fan with a bat before a game last weekend.

"Obviously, it was a more melodramatic day than usual," said Braves starter Tim Hudson, who pitched six strong innings. "But tomorrow is a new day. We'll come out and try to win that one."

The Braves jumped on Chris Carpenter in the very first inning.

Heyward got it started, lining a 1-1 pitch into the right-field seats for his seventh homer of the season. Chipper Jones followed with a double, then Dan Uggla came through with two outs, going the opposite way for a run-scoring double into the right-field corner.

Carpenter settled down after that, not allowing a runner past first base until McLouth struck in the seventh. He drove a 1-0 pitch into the Braves' bullpen, his first homer since Sept. 18, 2010, and another promising sign that he's put last year's miserable season behind him.

"His at-bats have been good since day one," manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

Atlanta had a chance to break it open, loading the bases with one out. But, after walking Jones intentionally, Carpenter got Brian McCann to hit into an inning-ending double play. The Cardinals starter pitched around 10 hits in seven innings.

"It would've been good to win this one, but it's not the end of the world," Gonzalez said. "We had some opportunities, but didn't add on runs. Those will get you."

Hudson, who came within one out of a complete game in his previous start at San Francisco, pitched six-hit ball. he couldn't hold the 2-0 lead, giving up four singles in the fourth. Molina had a sacrifice fly, and Descalso tied it up with a two-out, run-scoring hit to right.

Notes: Dave Wallace, the Braves minor league pitching coordinator, took over for McDowell. ... RHP Peter Moylan still hasn't resumed throwing, two weeks after going on the disabled list with a bulging disc in his back. ... La Russa is dealing with a lingering case of conjunctivitis. He contracted the eye ailment about 2 weeks ago. "I just can't shake it," he said. "I don't mind dealing with it. I'm just tired of it." ... The Braves brought up IF-OF Joe Mather from Triple-A Gwinnett and optioned RHP Jairo Acensio to the minors. Mather came up as a pinch-hitter in the ninth, failing to get down a bunt on two tries, then taking a called third strike. ... The Cardinals improved to 1-2 in extra-inning games, while Atlanta dropped to 1-3.