ATLANTA (AP) - Craig Kimbrel felt as if he let the Braves down for the second straight game.
One day after suffering his second blown save, Kimbrel couldn't hold a tie in the ninth as Gerald Laird's triple capped a late rally to give the St. Louis Cardinals a 3-2 win over Atlanta on Saturday.
``I'm leaving pitches over the plate and they're hitting them,' said Kimbrel, in his first season as the Braves' closer. ``I'm letting the leadoff runner get on and that's probably one of the most important guys to get out if I'm going to get into a rhythm with my pitching. I haven't done that in my last two outings and it's shown.
``I feel like I've let the team down the last two games. I'm going to come in tomorrow and try to do my job.'
Backed by rookie Brandon Beachy's seven scoreless innings to start the game, the Braves led 2-0 before St. Louis began its comeback. David Freese tied the game with a two-run single in the eighth before Laird's go-ahead triple drove in Matt Holliday.
Kimbrel (0-1) had a blown save in the Braves' 5-3 loss to the Cardinals in 11 innings on Friday night.
More trouble for the right-hander came when he couldn't hold a 2-2 tie in the ninth.
Holliday led off with a single to right, advanced to second on catcher Brian McCann's passed ball, and scored on Laird's one-out triple to left.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez noted Kimbrel is just a rookie who was pitching in only his 33rd game. He said he has not lost confidence in the right-hander.
``He's the guy,' Gonzalez said, adding Kimbrel's limited experience in the major leagues is ``equivalent to 60 at_bats.'
George Sherrill, who took over for Kimbrel, struck out Lance Berkman with the bases loaded to end the ninth. Kimbrel gave up two hits and one run in one-third of an inning.
Right-hander Fernando Salas struck out two in the ninth for his second save. Salas walked Nate McLouth with two outs before ending the game on pinch-hitter Eric Hinske's fly ball to left field.
Salas is one of four relievers to record saves in the Cardinals' last five wins, joining Mitchell Boggs, Eduardo Sanchez and Trever Miller.
``He's the guy who was available today,' said manager Tony La Russa of Salas.
The Cardinals have won four straight and 14 of their last 19 to move into first place in the NL Central.
``You like to win by 10 runs, but to come out and win two big games like this, coming back shows a lot,' Laird said.
Braves shortstop Alex Gonzalez was ejected by home plate umpire Marvin Hudson for arguing a called third strike from Salas for the second out in the ninth. Fredi Gonzalez picked up the argument and also was tossed.
Miguel Batista (2-1) escaped an eighth-inning jam. Jason Heyward hit a one-out double off the right-field wall. Batista walked Chipper Jones intentionally. Colby Rasmus ran down Brian McCann's deep fly ball on the warning track in center field, and Freese snagged Dan Uggla's line drive to end the inning.
The Cardinals have won four straight, including the first two games of the series.
Beachy gave up three hits and two runs in seven-plus innings. He didn't allow a baserunner past first base until the eighth inning.
Daniel Descalso led off with a double. Beachy was pulled after he walked Tyler Green.
Nick Punto advanced the runners with a sacrifice against left-hander Jonny Venters, who struck out pinch-hitter Berkman. Freese followed with a tying two-run single to right field.
Georgia native Jake Westbrook gave up five hits and two runs in six innings for St. Louis. Westbrook walked three batters, leaving him with 19 walks over 30 1/3 innings.
Martin Prado had two doubles, including a two-run liner past Freese at third base that drove in Gonzalez and McLouth in the fifth.
Beachy retired the first 10 batters before giving up a single to Freese with one out in the fourth. Beachy ended the inning, leaving Freese on first base, on Albert Pujols' fly ball to left field and Holliday's grounder to third base.
Notes: RF Jon Jay was 0-for-2 hitting leadoff for only the second time this season. ... Jones said he is still experiencing discomfort in his right knee when swinging as a right-handed hitter. He'll test the knee on Sunday when hitting from the right side against left-hander Jaime Garcia. ... Westbrook, born in Athens, Ga., lives about 90 minutes from Atlanta in Danielsville, Ga.
The Associated Press News Service
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