Down to maybe one game to lose -- if they're lucky -- the Braves did just that Tuesday night, falling 5-4 to the Marlins.
The Braves' wild card hopes are more precarious than ever, down 2-½ games to the Rockies with five games to play, pending the Rockies-Brewers game Tuesday night.
If the Braves thought they've had no room for error over the last 2-½ weeks. Try now.
"We've been in the corner all season long pretty much, so we'll see how it works out," said Matt Diaz, whose game-tying three-run homer in the sixth inning was the last big hit the Braves could muster. "It's looked bleaker than this. We'll see what happens. We'll come tomorrow ready to play carefree, like we've got nothing to lose and keep playing good baseball."
The Braves knew Tuesday night would be tough going up against Marlins ace Josh Johnson. They have to hope an easier pitching matchup against the Marlins on Wednesday night and four games against the Nationals after that will set them up to win out.
The Braves faced their biggest deficit in a game of this eight-game stretch -- three runs -- and their best starting pitcher in Johnson, and still rallied to tie the game 4-4 on Diaz's three-run homer.
At that point, surely everyone in the smallish crowd of 28,669 was "believing" like signs and banners scattered around Turner Field read, trying to will the Braves to their eighth consecutive victory, but it wouldn't work.
The Marlins have a recent history of pestering playoff contending teams in the National League East this time of year and showed the Braves why by rallying for the go-ahead run off Kenshin Kawakami in a 5-4 win. Rookie-of-the-year candidate Chris Coghlan doubled to lead off the seventh inning and scored on a single by Jorge Cantu.
"Tonight is a tough loss but it's not like we played terrible," Diaz said. "They just beat us. They had a great pitcher on the mound, and their offense just kept coming."
After scoring only one run in five innings off Johnson, the Braves were ready for a look at somebody else, nobody more so than Diaz. The Braves right fielder had been 0-for-his-past-11, including three strikeouts in the series-opener on Monday night.
Diaz connected on the first pitch from reliever Brian Sanches in the for a towering home run to it tie the game 4-4 and get the helmet-pounding of his life in the Braves' dugout. The blow took Tim Hudson off the hook after a wobbly five-inning start, the worst in his six-back from elbow-reconstruction surgery.
Another sparse but vocal crowd at Turner Field had tried to rally behind Hudson, who worked some damage control early to hold the Marlins to one run in the first three innings on Johnson's own RBI double. But then Hudson surrendered a pair of home run balls -- one to Dan Uggla and a two-run shot to Cameron Maybin -- leaving the fans nothing to do but throw them back on the field.
Hudson looked like a pitcher working his way back from surgery Tuesday.
"It was definitely the most inconsistent I've felt in this whole process," Hudson said. "…For me tonight it was hit or miss. Even from at-bat to at-bat, I'd make some really good pitches and then I'd leave a pitch out over the plate. It's a little frustrating because I definitely felt like I was better than what I showed."
Johnson was pitching two days after getting scratched with the flu, but it didn't seem to affect him. Johnson allowed the Braves only three hits and one manufactured run in five innings.
The Braves loaded the bases when he got wild in the fifth inning, but Brian McCann popped up to third base, leaving the Braves still without a grand slam on the season.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.