With a 2-0 loss to the red-hot White Sox in the finale of a three-game series, the Braves were swept out of Chicago.
Paul Konerko victimized Takashi Saito with a two-run, eighth-inning homer that accounted for the only runs of the game, as the Braves wasted a strong outing by Derek Lowe.
As they packed their bags to leave town, the Atlanta players said they were more than a little impressed with the Chicago club.
“That team right there, if they’re swinging the bats, they’re the best team that we’ve played thus far,” Chipper Jones said.
The Braves, who had won or split their past 13 series before arriving in Chicago, return home tonight to open a series against the Tigers.
The ride home would have been much sweeter if it weren’t for Konerko.
His two-out, eighth-inning blast tarnished the seven scoreless innings the Braves received from Lowe and preserved the impressive outing registered by Gavin Floyd, who allowed just two hits over seven scoreless innings. While winning 13 of their past 14 games, the White Sox have seen their pitching staff post a 2.13 ERA.
The Braves, who hadn’t been swept since their nine-game losing streak reached its pinnacle on April 29, entered this series with a five-game winning streak and the confidence they had gained while not losing any of their previous 13 series.
“I think there’s only one way to look at it: You got swept,” Lowe said. “But I don’t think anyone is leaving here thinking we’re a bad team. You look at how this White Sox team has been playing for the last two weeks and it’s just off the charts. Those things happen. We ran into a team that is playing good and we didn’t play our best. These are the results. But in no way do we think this is the start of something. It’s just a bad three-game series.”
After Lowe escaped a couple of jams and matched Floyd’s dominance through the first seven innings, Saito was called upon for the second time in less than 24 hours. The 40-year-old right-hander said he was fresh and unbothered by the left hamstring ailment that had kept him on the disabled list through Tuesday. But after recording the second out in the eighth, he was unable to keep Konerko from drilling a first-pitch fastball into the left-field seats.
“He was the guy,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said defending his decision to use Saito. “He threw the ball really well.”
Cox said he felt Konerko was sitting on a fastball and the White Sox first baseman verified that assessment.
“He’s got a good slider and I just wanted to be ready in case he wanted to get ahead with a heater,” Konerko said. “That’s what happened. I got a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on it.”
Saito’s ill-fated fastball proved to be the only costly mistake committed by a pitcher during this series finale. While Lowe’s effort might have been his strongest of the season, it didn’t compare to the one produced by Floyd, who has spent the past few weeks looking nothing like a pitcher who has won just two of his first 15 starts this year.
“With that stuff, it’s just a number I don’t understand,” Jones said of Floyd’s record of 2-7. “I know he didn’t get the win. But we had just one chance to score off him.”
Instead of manufacturing the early leads that they squandered during the first two games of this series, the Braves produced virtually nothing off the tough-luck Floyd, who has allowed just three runs in his past 29 innings (four starts) and lost the only decision that has encompassed that span.
After allowing Eric Hinske’s two-out, second-inning single, Floyd retired 14 consecutive batters. Jones’ single ended this dominant run with a one-out, seventh-inning single. With runners at the corners and two outs in the seventh, the White Sox right-hander ended his impressive effort by getting Hinske to swing through a 2-2 curveball.
“You can’t fault the effort,” Jones said. “You can’t fault the play. We just ran into a hot team on the road.”
While pitching into the seventh inning for the fifth time in his past six starts, Lowe surrendered five hits and managed to pitch around the leadoff doubles that he surrendered in the fourth and sixth innings. With the bases loaded and one out in the fourth, the 37-year-old right-hander got A.J. Pierzynski to look at a called third strike and then ended the threat by getting Andruw Jones to fly out to left field
Mark Kotsay’s sixth-inning leadoff double helped the White Sox put runners at the corners with just one out. Lowe escaped the jam by inducing a sharp Pierzynski grounder that second baseman Martin Prado fielded before allowing Yunel Escobar to complete a double-play relay while avoiding Carlos Quentin’s aggressive slide.
“That was probably the best game that I’ve pitched [this year], not just because of the results, but because of the situations that were present,” said Lowe after producing a scoreless effort for the first time since opening his Braves career by blanking the Phillies over eight innings on April 5, 2009.
While Lowe gained some reason for encouragement, the Braves were deflated for the first time since losing a series against the Phillies on May 9. But with the success they had generated in the six weeks that followed, they have little reason to be distraught about what occurred over the course of the past three days.
“Teams are never as good as they are when they’re streaking like this and they’re never as bad as they are when they’re going through a nine-game losing streak, like we were,” Jones said. “Like I said, it’s just a situation where we caught a particular team at the wrong time on the road. You’ve got to tip your cap. They played a better series than we did.”