They had a chance to win Sunday, but a key double play induced by Florida with the bases loaded in the top of the 11th, and a clutch game-winning hit by former Atlanta infielder Wes Helms, escorted the Braves out of South Florida with their third loss in five games.
"It's never good to drop a series, especially when they're within the division," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "But we played well. A bounce here, a bounce there, we sweep the series. If we keep playing solid baseball, we're going to win a ton of games."
Helms, who played in Atlanta from 1998-2002, was a thorn in the side of his former team on Sunday. He had a two-run triple in the Marlins' four-run fourth inning that erased the Braves' early 2-0 lead, and he delivered a walk-off single in the bottom of the 11th when he sliced a bases-loaded hit through a drawn-in Braves infield into left field, sparking a Marlins celebration around Helms as he rounded first base. That handed Braves reliever Jesse Chavez his second loss in four decisions.
The Braves also loaded the bases with one out in their half of the 11th inning, but couldn't score. Three consecutive one-out singles by David Ross, Martin Prado and Jason Heyward loaded the bases for Nate McLouth, who lined a hard-hit shot that Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez cleanly fielded and turned into a 6-4-3 double play to end the scoring threat.
"It was a screaming meemie that was right at Ramirez," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "[McLouth] hits it soft, they can't turn it, but he hit a bullet."
Cox said if that ball gets through for a hit, it could have been the start of a turnaround for McLouth, who has struggled at the plate and now has a .168 batting average.
"He hit the ball right on the button," Jones said. "It's kind of a microcosm of his whole year."
Braves starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens had a strong outing except for one inning, the fourth, when the Marlins collected four of their six hits off the Atlanta right-hander and scored four runs.
"J.J. pitched a heck of a game, he really did," Cox said of Jurrjens, who was 3-0 with a 2.19 ERA in his four previous starts since coming of the DL on June 30. "The four runs in that [fourth] inning were just stupid runs. A dribbler up the middle, a dribbler to the right side, a hit-and-run dribbler and one ball hit good, [by] Helms. That was it -- four runs. I thought he was outstanding. It's just a shame that we lose that game."
Jurrjens lasted seven innings, and the Braves' bullpen shut out the Marlins for three innings before Florida tagged Chavez for three hits in the bottom of the 11th. Back-to-back singles by Ramirez and Dan Uggla and an intentional walk to Cody Ross loaded the bases with no outs to set the stage for Helms' game-winning hit.
"It was just bad luck in [the fourth] inning," Jurrjens said, adding that the Braves anticipated a tough series from the Marlins. "Starting pitching was good, both teams had clutch hitting. It was a battle, which we expected coming into this series. Playing against the Fish, every time we play them, it's a tough series. It's still a long season to go."
The Braves struck first in Sunday's rubber game on Brian McCann's RBI single in the top of the first inning, and they took a 2-0 lead on Eric Hinske's solo home run, his eighth of the season, in the top of the third.
After Florida's big fourth inning, Atlanta made it a one-run game in the sixth when Troy Glaus doubled and scored on a sacrifice fly to center by Melky Cabrera. Jones tied the game at 4 in the top of the eighth when he laced an RBI double to left-center field that scored Cabrera, who had doubled with two outs.