La Stella error costly in Braves’ 7th straight loss

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La Stella error costly in Braves’ 7th straight loss

SEATTLE – Seldom has a game unraveled as quickly and completely as it did for the Braves in the fourth inning Tuesday night, when Tommy La Stella’s dropped fly ball with two outs and the score tied allowed two runs to score and severely diminished the chances of beating Mariners ace Felix Hernandez.

Seattle added another run before the ugly inning was through, and “King” Felix and the Mariners cruised from there to a 4-2 win at Safeco Field, dropping the Braves to 0-7 on an eight-game nightmare of a West Coast trip that ends Wednesday and at this point can’t possibly end soon enough.

If three unearned runs in the fourth weren’t bad enough, the Braves watched Gold Glove shortstop Andrelton Simmons limp off the field after spraining his left ankle when he stepped awkwardly on the edge of the third-base bag while covering on Logan Morrison’s game-tying single in the inning. Simmons’ condition will be re-evaluated Wednesday.

Hernandez (12-3) limited the Braves to four hits, one run and one walk with eight strikeouts in eight innings, extending his major league record to 15 consecutive games with at least seven innings pitched and two or fewer runs allowed. That’s two more such games than Tom Seaver, who set the previous record in 1971.

He also equaled Gaylord Perry’s 1974 record of 15 consecutive games of at least seven innings pitched with two or fewer earned runs allowed.

The loss gave the Braves their second seven-game losing streak of the season and kept them three games behind first-place Washington in the National League East. They are 6-12 since the All-Star break and must win Wednesday to avoid going 0-for an entire trip that included three-game sweeps at Los Angeles and San Diego before they flew north and enjoyed a day off Monday.

Wood (7-9) was charged with five hits and four runs (one earned) in six innings, with four walks and five strikeouts.

After playing 17 consecutive days, it looked like Monday’s day off – La Stella was part of a Braves group that went fishing — had done them some good when the Braves jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the second inning. Justin Upton doubled and scored on Chris Johnson’s two-out single.

Wood worked around consecutive two-out walks in the second inning and a leadoff double in the third inning, with a big assist from center fielder Emilio Bonifacio. The versatile veteran, acquired from the Cubs in a Thursday trade, raced over to the left-center gap to take a would-be extra-base hit and RBI away from Robinson Cano with an inning-ending catch to preserve the 1-0 lead.

But trouble arrived in the fourth. After Kendrys Morales grounded out to start the inning, Wood hit Kyle Seager with a pitch. Chris Denorfia followed with a single, then things really turned ugly.

Logan Morrison singled to left field to drive in the tying run, and Justin Upton threw home instead of to the cutoff man. The throw sailed over catcher Gerald Laird’s head, allowing both runners to get into scoring position.

After Wood struck out catcher Mike Zunino, No. 9 hitter Chris Taylor hit a pop fly to shallow right field. It was hard to tell if right fielder Jason Heyward said anything to La Stella, but the second baseman drifted back and got under the ball, only to have it bounce off his glove and roll away, allowing both runners to score for a 3-1 Mariners lead.

Austin Jackson followed with a single up the middle that pushed the lead to 4-1. Three of four runs in the inning were unearned.

At that point, the Braves faced severe odds: The Last time an opponent scored more than three runs in a game started by Hernandez was May 12, when he gave up four runs in 6 2/3 innings of a 12-5 loss to the Rays.

In his 15 starts since then, the only Mariners opponent to score three runs was Boston in a 12-3 loss (they got a run after Hernandez left the game). The Braves didn’t get a second run until the ninth inning, when La Stella hit a leadoff double against closer Fernando Rodney, advanced on a groundout, and scored on Justin Upton’s groundout.

For updated write-thru version of this story with postgame quotes, go to MyAJC.com or use this link.

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