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Game 158 Recap: Marlins 5, Braves 4

The Braves fell short in their most important game of the season. Starting pitcher Javier Vazquez unfortunately chose to emulate Tim Hudson's performance from last night, as he allowed 5 runs in 6 innings, taking the loss for the Braves. Florida's starter Ricky Nolasco, on the other hand, pitched his best performance of the season, striking out a career high 16, including striking out 9 consecutive batters at one point, becoming just the 4th player in Major League history to accomplish the feat.

But, as masterful as Nolasco was, he wore down a bit toward the end of the game, as the Braves were able to scratch two unearned runs across the board in the 7th inning on an Adam LaRoche double. A win seemed tantalizingly close as Florida closer Leo Nunez lost control of the strike zone in the 9th, allowing Yunel Escobar to drive in Brian McCann and Omar Infante to drive in Escobar.

Then, with two outs and the bases loaded, Florida manager Fredi Gonzalez opted to bring in super-vet Brendan Donnelly to face Martin Prado. Donnelly needed only one pitch to end the game, but not in a manner anyone could have guessed. Catcher Ronny Paulino lost the ball in the dirt and as it squirted away from him Matt Diaz began down the third base line toward home. But, Diaz showed indecisiveness, ultimately retreating to third base, but not before Paulino could retrieve the ball and throw him out to end the game.

This was a heartbreaking and somewhat baffling loss. The onus has been on the Braves to win at the end of the season and the last two nights they have failed. This loss puts their elimination number at 2, meaning any combination of Rockies wins or Braves losses equaling 2 will eliminate the Braves from winning the Wild Card. The Phillies clinched the Eastern Division tonight, so the Wild Card remains the Braves lone hope, but, as I write this, they lead Milwakee 8 to 4 in the top of the 7th inning in Colorado. If the Rockies hold on to win the game, the Braves elimination number drops to 1, meaning any Braves loss or Rockies win after tonight kills the Braves playoff hopes.

Final - 9.30.2009 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Florida Marlins 0 0 3 0 2 0 0 0 0 5 11 3
Atlanta Braves 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 2 4 6 1
WP: Ricky Nolasco (13 - 9)
SV: Brendan Donnelly (2)
LP: Javier Vazquez (15 - 10)

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