Brian McCann looks on with dismay during the Braves' 7-1 loss Tuesday to the Phillies.
ATLANTA -- Dan Uggla drop-kicked his bat after striking out on three pitches. Chipper Jones slammed his bat into the dirt after popping up. Derek Lowe just trudged off the mound to another round of boos from the home crowd, wondering how it all went wrong.
Cardinals rout Astros, tied for WC lead with Braves with one game to play
HOUSTON — The St. Louis Cardinals are tied with Atlanta for the NL wild-card lead, getting a tiebreaking two-run triple from Ryan Theriot in the seventh inning of a 13-6 victory over the Houston Astros on Tuesday night.
The sliding Braves lost 7-1 to Philadelphia, sending the race for the NL's final playoff spot to the final day of the regular season. If the teams are tied after Wednesday's game, St. Louis will host a one-game playoff on Thursday night.
The Cardinals trailed 5-0 early and appeared to be headed for a second straight loss to the Astros. But St. Louis scored five times in the fourth and erased a 6-5 deficit with a four-run seventh.
Lance Berkman hit a two-out single and scored on Allen Craig's tying double. Craig entered the game in the third inning when Matt Holliday departed with discomfort in his right hand.
Yadier Molina walked before pinch-hitter Theriot delivered his clutch triple to make it 8-6.
Nick Punto, who had four hits, doubled in Theriot in the seventh and had a solo homer in the ninth. Craig padded the lead with a three-run homer to the Crawford Boxes in left field in the eighth.
Eduardo Sanchez (3-1) struck out two in 1 1-3 innings for the win in a game that included seven Cardinals relievers following an early exit by Jake Westbrook.
Skip Schumaker drove in three runs in the fourth, and Berkman had three hits and scored three times. The crowd booed loudly when Berkman, the longtime Astros star, scored the tying run in the seventh.
The Astros jumped on Westbrook for seven hits and five runs in 2 1-3 innings to take the early lead.
Enerio Del Rosario (0-3) yielded two hits and three runs for the loss.
Brian Bogusevic singled to start the Astros' fifth before consecutive walks loaded the bases. Bogusevic scored when Jimmy Paredes grounded into a double play, giving Houston a 6-5 lead.
David Freese walked to start the big fourth inning by St. Louis. Berkman singled with one out, and the runners advanced on a wild pitch by Henry Sosa.
Craig then walked before Molina singled in a run and Schumaker cleared the bases with a double to center, chasing Sosa. David Carpenter came in and allowed Jon Jay's tying sacrifice fly later in the inning.
The Astros scored four times in the third. Brett Wallace had a two-run single and Jimmy Paredes added a two-run triple that rolled up on the corner of Tal's Hill in center field.
Cardinals star Albert Pujols got hit on the right elbow by a ball that glanced off his bat for a foul in the seventh. He writhed in pain for a minute before trainers came and checked on him. He continued his at-bat after a short delay, flew out to left field and played the rest of the game.
NOTES: Holliday returned to the Cardinals on Saturday after missing nine games with a tendon injury on his right middle finger. He is listed as day to day. ... Cardinals SS Rafael Furcal, who left Monday's game in the fifth inning with tightness in his left hamstring, was held out. Manger Tony La Russa said Furcal would not return for Wednesday's game, but he wasn't sure about his availability if the Cardinals play past that game. ... Houston closer Mark Melancon and his wife Mary Catherine had a girl named Brooklyn Marie on Tuesday. ... Chris Carpenter pitches for the Cardinals against Brett Myers in the regular-season finale on Wednesday. Myers has won four straight games and has a 1.24 ERA in his last five starts. Carpenter is 7-5 in his career against the Astros, but hasn't won in Houston since 2005.
The Braves are mad and frustrated heading to the 162nd game.
Their season is on the brink after a potentially historic collapse.
"It's like living out a bad dream," Jones said.
Lowe had another miserable outing, surrendering five runs in four-plus innings, and the Braves took another step toward giving away a playoff berth that seemed certain just a few weeks ago with an ugly 7-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday night.
St. Louis pulled even with the Braves, rallying from an early 5-0 deficit to beat the Houston Astros 13-6. Atlanta took sole possession of the NL wild-card lead on June 20 and had held it until Tuesday, according to STATS LLC.
Chase Utley, Hunter Pence and Jimmy Rollins homered to back a three-hit outing by Roy Oswalt (9-10), who tuned up for the playoffs with a strong performance in a largely disappointing season.
Talk about disappointing. Look what's happened to the Braves.
They lost their fourth in a row and eighth in 11 games, sending them to the final day of the regular season tied with the Cardinals. Atlanta had an 8-1/2-game lead just three weeks ago.
"We've got one game to play in the month of September, then October comes around and it's a new month," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "There's not a person in that locker room who I wouldn't want to be on my team to play that game."
"I would hope so," Jones said, trying to make light of the grim situation. "We're pretty much all he has anyway."
Sixteen-game winner Tim Hudson will try to wrap up the wild card or at least force a one-game playoff against Cardinals, which would be Thursday night in St. Louis.
"It is what it is," Gonzalez said. "We've played 161 games and it comes down to one. We've done it to ourselves. No excuses there. We've got to go get it tomorrow."
Lowe (9-17) has been a $15 million bust for the Braves, losing all five of his September starts and drawing the ire of Atlanta fans. They cheered lustily when Gonzalez popped out of the dugout to make a pitching change after Lowe gave up a leadoff single in the fifth, then heckled the high-priced right-hander as he trudged to the dugout -- and straight to the showers without so much as a pause.
"When you're 9-17 with a (5.05) ERA, come on, there's really nothing you can say to sugarcoat it," Lowe said. "I'm man enough to say I've had a terrible year. But we've still got a chance. Our best pitcher is going tomorrow. This isn't about me. This is about this organization and how much hard work these guys have put in this season."
The NL East champion Phillies, winning their 101st game of the season, jumped ahead on the eighth pitch of the game. Lowe served up one to Utley, who drove it into center-field seats for his 11th homer.
An uneasy feeling settled over Turner Field. It would only get worse.
The Phillies extended the lead to 3-0 in the third on Rollins' run-scoring and Pence's sacrifice fly, the inning helped along by Lowe's ill-advised decision to try to get the lead runner at third on Oswalt's sacrifice. Carlos Ruiz beat the throw and everyone was safe.
The advantage grew to 4-0 in the fourth when two singles set up another sacrifice fly, this one by Placido Polanco.
Philadelphia finished off Lowe in the fifth. When Rollins led off with a single, rookie Arodys Vizcaino was summoned from the bullpen. But the youngster gave up a towering two-run homer to Pence, his 22nd, that turned the game into a full-fledged rout.
Rollins added his 16th homer in the seventh off another Braves rookie, Julio Teheran.
The Braves fans stopped booing long enough to cheer on the last-place Astros from afar, breaking into periodic chants of "Let's Go Houston!"
"I heard it," said Braves center fielder Michael Bourn, who was acquired from the Astros at the trade deadline. "I was actually bobbing my head to it. I'm right there with 'em. Let's go Astros. You can't be against that."
The top three hitters in the Phillies' lineup -- Rollins, Utley and Pence -- combined to go 6 for 12 with three homers, five RBIs and four runs scored. Rollins had three hits and Pence drove in three runs.
Manager Charlie Manuel improved his record in Philadelphia to 645-488, tying Gene Mauch (645-684) for the most wins in franchise history.
"I'll get more out of it when I beat him," Manuel joked. "That's a good sign of the teams we've had."
No one in the Atlanta lineup did anything until Martin Prado hit a meaningless homer off Kyle Kendrick in the ninth to keep the Braves from their second shutout in four games. They've scored only four runs in that span.
Staked to a comfortable lead, Oswalt went on cruise control. The right-hander went six innings and allowed just two runners to get as far as second base. His only real trouble came in the third when Bourn singled, stole second and Prado reached as Rollins bobbled a grounder at shortstop for an error. But Jones, who had an MRI on his ailing right knee before the game, grounded into a double play.
"My arm's strength back," Oswalt said. "My breaking pitch was working pretty well. Hopefully, it'll carry into the playoffs."
Jones and the Braves just want to make it to the playoffs. "You never expect this to happen to you," he said.
NOTES: The Phillies won their third in a row and improved to 11-6 against the Braves in the season series. ... RHP Jair Jurrjens is scheduled to pitch Thursday in the Florida instructional league in what the Braves are hoping will be a tuneup for the playoffs. He's been out with a bone bruise in his right knee. ... The Braves had hoped to save Hudson (16-10) for the playoffs, but their No. 1 starter has to go Wednesday with the season on the line. Joe Blanton (1-2) gets the nod for the Phillies, who also plan to use starter Cole Hamels for a couple of innings in relief, as well as a series of relievers. ... Braves SS Alex Gonzalez left the game in the second inning after re-injuring his strained right calf. Fredi Gonzalez said the injury appears more serious than before and he doesn't expect his starter to play on Wednesday. Jack Wilson would fill in.