0

Cubs nip Braves, 3-2

Atlanta’s Chipper Jones looks down after striking out during the second inning of Wednesday’s game against the Cubs.

Atlanta’s Chipper Jones looks down after striking out during the second inning of Wednesday’s game against the Cubs.

CHICAGO -- Even in defeat, the Atlanta Braves' clubhouse reverberates with confidence, as if there are greater things to focus on than one loss.

A deep run into October, for example.

Derek Lowe pitched seven strong innings, and Chipper Jones and Alex Gonzalez homered, but it wasn't enough as the Braves fell to the Chicago Cubs 3-2 on Wednesday night.

All the damage done to Lowe (8-12) came in the second, when the Cubs batted around and scored three runs.

Alfonso Soriano followed a leadoff walk with a two-run homer, and speedster Tony Campana reached on Dan Uggla's fielding error and came around to score on a groundout.

The Cubs went on to load the bases, but Lowe induced an inning-ending groundout.

"I don't consider that a rough inning for me," Lowe said with a grin. "That's damage control."

Other than that, Lowe was as dominant as he's been all season. He gave up four hits and four walks. Lowe struck out six and threw a season-high 119 pitches.

"He's gonna get the loss, but I think he deserves better," said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez. "You look at his linescore, and it might be one of his best starts. He was really, really good."

Lowe tossed seven full innings for the first time since May 17.

"As embarrassing a stat as that may be, I'd rather be doing that now than back then," Lowe said. "We're winding down and you've got six or seven starts left, you want to finish up strong to put ourselves in a good spot. We're still trying to catch Philly.

"I don't think this loss is going to stay with us very long, especially the way we've been playing."

The Braves have won 15 of 20 and remain 6½ games behind the Phillies in the NL East.

"Regardless of whether (Lowe) won or lost tonight, we needed him to give us innings and he did that," said Jones. "That's the luxury of how well we've played up until this point. We lose a game like this tonight, it doesn't really bother us because we are where we are. Just file this one away and come back out tomorrow."

Jones' home run chased Cubs starter Randy Wells (5-4) with two outs in the seventh, but it was just the second hit of the game for Atlanta.

Wells held the Braves to one run and two hits over 6 2-3 innings, striking out six and improving to 4-1 in his career against Atlanta.

"He had an outstanding changeup tonight. He made one mistake with it," Jones said. "I thought he pitched as good ... Well, I can't really say that, he had us no-hit in the seventh in our place, so I have seen him pitch that well. He did it to us again."

Wells, then a rookie, had a no-hit bid broken up by Jones with two outs in the seventh on June 2, 2009 in Atlanta. The Braves came back from a 5-0 deficit to win 6-5 in 12 innings.

"I'm starting to feel a lot better," Wells said. "I'm starting to command the fastball a lot better. Tonight, I had a pretty good changeup."

Carlos Marmol got the last three outs and joined Lee Smith as the only Cubs relievers to post consecutive 30-save seasons.

Soriano's two-run shot fueled Chicago's three-run rally in the second. He also walked and was hit by a pitch. Aramis Ramirez added a single and two walks, extending his hitting streak to 13 games.

Wells appeared to tire in the seventh, giving up Freddie Freeman's flyout to the wall and Jones' home run into the batter's eye in center field. Wells threw 109 pitches and departed after Jones' blast, which moved him into a tie with Jeff Bagwell for 34th on the career list with 449.

Gonzalez homered off reliever Kerry Wood in the eighth.

NOTES: Braves OF Jose Constanza was out of the lineup for the second straight day because of a mild sprain of his right ankle, though manager Fredi Gonzalez said Constanza was available to pinch-hit. He expect his to return to the lineup on Thursday. ... Cubs manager Mike Quade was encouraged by news from RHP Andrew Cashner's brief rehab start for Double-A Tennessee on Tuesday. Casher allowed two runs and three hits in 2-3 of an inning, but Quade said his velocity topped out in the high 90s and he reported no problems with the strained right rotator cuff that's had him out since April 5. Cashner is scheduled to make two more appearances for Tennessee before moving up to Triple-A Iowa in advance of a September return with the Cubs. ... The Braves will send rookie Brandon Beachy (6-2) to the mound for Thursday afternoon's series finale against Chicago's Matt Garza (6-9), who has posted a 1.47 ERA over his last nine home starts.