"We were able to fight back and put ourselves back into the game," said Carlos Beltran, who enjoyed a four-hit, four-RBI night. "Unfortunately, we weren't able to finish them off."
While the Braves led, 5-1, after three innings against lefty Jaime Garcia, it was the Cardinals who had plenty of opportunities to close the game late. After Beltran delivered a game-tying homer in the eighth -- his second long ball of the night -- the Cardinals put the potential game-winning run on third base in each of the next three innings.
In the 10th, St. Louis actually loaded the bases with one out. That threat died when pinch-hitter David Freese grounded into an inning-ending double play. Allen Craig popped out with the bases loaded in the 11th.
In a game where the two clubs combined for 26 hits (14 for extra bases), the Cardinals left 11 runners aboard.
"You have to tip your cap to Livan [Hernandez]," manager Mike Matheny said of the Atlanta reliever, who pitched the 10th and 11th for the win. "He did a nice job pitching around the zone against guys who are aggressive. He kept them off balance and swinging at his pitches."
Hernandez's ability to extend the game opened the door for Heyward to deliver. With a runner on first, McClellan went after Heyward with a 1-0 sinker. He wanted to induce a double play, and his pitch was out of the strike zone, but not low enough. Heyward drove it to over the center-field wall to break a 7-7 tie.
"Tip your hat," McClellan said. "When you get behind good hitters, they're going to hurt you. He's a good hitter and he didn't miss that one."
The Cardinals went down quietly against Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel in the bottom half of the frame.
The loss marred a night in which Beltran again shined. He collected four extra-base hits and fell a single short of hitting for the cycle. Before tying the game with a homer in the eighth, he delivered a solo homer in the fourth. That blast measured an estimated 454 feet, making it the second-longest homer in the history of new Busch Stadium.
"Right now, I'm just seeing the ball good and making good contact," Beltran said. "Sometimes you have good days and bad days, so you have to take advantage when you feel good at the plate."
Beltran has three multi-homer games in the team's last nine and has driven in a Major League-best 20 runs already this month.
"From the eighth inning on, it seemed like Beltran hit every inning," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I was looking to see if somebody was batting out of order over there. He's swinging a blazing bat right now. Every time we left a mistake out over the plate, he hurt us."
Beltran's two homers were among four the Cardinals hit on Friday. Matt Carpenter and Craig chipped in solo shots, too, as the Cardinals again had to play catch up with Garcia on the mound. The left-hander allowed five runs before the end of the third.
Catcher Yadier Molina uncharacteristically let two balls ricochet off his glove in the first inning, and both passed balls resulted in Atlanta runs.
Though this was Molina's first game back since suffering a bruised left hand, Matheny attributed the passed balls not to Molina's hand, but to the often unexpected movement Garcia gets on his pitches.
"His hands are so good that normally you can't tell," Matheny said of Molina. "I think the ball was just moving a little more tonight."
The Braves strung together another four hits -- including three doubles -- in a five-batter span to plate three runs in the third. Garcia, who gave up six runs in his previous start, has now allowed 11 (10 earned) in his last 11 2/3 innings. Six of those runs have come in the first inning.
Much of the issue has stemmed from inadequate command of his sinker.
"I'm just frustrated, because I want to do better than just battling and staying focused," Garcia said. "I want to go and give my team a chance to win."
Garcia did, though, exit with a one-run lead when he was pulled with two out in the sixth. St. Louis jumped in front with a three-run fifth off Braves starter Mike Minor.
Matt Holliday drove in one with a double. Beltran followed with a two-run triple, giving him his 11th multihit game of the year.
"There's no one hotter out there," Braves second baseman Dan Uggla said of Beltran. "[Texas' Josh] Hamilton, maybe?"
Hamilton has 15 RBIs this month, five fewer than Beltran, who now has 31 this season.
The Cardinals handed that 6-5 lead over to the bullpen. Victor Marte helped get Garcia out of trouble in the sixth, but Marc Rzepczynski served up a game-tying homer to Uggla in the eighth.
An inning later, Mitchell Boggs allowed Atlanta to briefly take the lead as he walked two (one intentional) and allowed two hits. The St. Louis bullpen followed with three scoreless innings before McClellan gave up two in his second inning of relief.
"It was certainly a tough one," Matheny said of the loss, which snapped a four-game winning streak. "We had some opportunities to finish them off and just couldn't make it happen."