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STL@ATL: Lyons fans Laird to end the Braves' rally

ATLANTA -- The Cardinals' up-and-down offense has been merely down behind Tyler Lyons, whose quality start on Tuesday night was wasted by a once-again absent offense.

The Braves scored the tie-breaking run in an eighth inning where two Cardinals relievers each believed he had induced an inning-ending double play. Randy Choate's kick save, as he characterized it, foiled the potential for one. Defense positioning eliminated the opportunity for another.

That turned out to be the opening Atlanta needed to string together three straight hits and snap a seven-game losing streak with a 2-1 win over St. Louis. The loss, coming in front of 18,413 fans at Turner Field, halted the Cardinals' quest to extend their winning streak to three, a typically modest accomplishment if not for the fact that it has only happened once over the team's first 33 games.

"Stumped again," manager Mike Matheny said of his offense.

With six strong innings in his best of three spot starts yet this season, Lyons kept the Cardinals a hit away from taking the lead. He turned a 1-1 game over to Seth Maness, who worked around a leadoff double in the seventh. With the bullpen short Carlos Martinez and Kevin Siegrist due to recent overuse, Matheny then called upon Choate to open the eighth and face the lefty-heavy top third of Atlanta's lineup.

The matchup seemed skewed in St. Louis' favor.

"He's the guy we want in right there," Matheny said of Choate. "That's an opportunity for us to try and take a shot at winning it."

Jason Heyward turned 0-for-8 with a strikeout to start the inning. The right-handed-hitting Justin Upton snuck a single through, but it brought up Freddie Freeman, 0-for-4 with three strikeouts lifetime against Choate.

Freeman put up an eight-pitch battle against Choate and lined the last of those off Choate's left foot. The ball ricocheted to third baseman Matt Carpenter, who had no play.

"It's just one of those things that if it misses me, it's a groundball to [shortstop] Jhonny [Peralta] and we have a double play," Choate said. "It's not like he put a rocket out into the gap. The ball just found me. That's the way it bounces sometimes."

The trouble swelling, Matheny summoned Pat Neshek. After not getting the call on a borderline 1-2 pitch, Neshek's seventh pitch -- a 90-mph sinker -- to Chris Johnson snuck through to right field. Daniel Descalso, shaded toward second base, had no chance to stop it.

Upton scored without a play.

"When it was off the bat, I thought it was going to be a double play," Neshek said. "He just inside-outted it. Nothing you can do."

Craig Kimbrel then took care of the Cardinals' offense in order to seal the win, the Braves' first this month.

Lyons had given the Cards time to build a lead for the bullpen, but he was dueled admirably by Braves starter Gavin Floyd, who was making his first start post-Tommy John surgery. Lyons allowed one run in six innings, Floyd one in seven.

Lyons' only costly mistake was a knee-high, split-the-plate changeup that Upton clubbed an estimated 451 feet for a fourth-inning solo homer. The blast halted an 0-for-12 skid for Upton and marked the first time since April 22 that the Braves had scored first. Atlanta hadn't led at any point in any game since the first of May.

Lyons had retired all 10 batters he faced prior to Upton's homer, and he wouldn't allow another Atlanta run in his 87-pitch outing. The lefty stranded a runner in scoring position in both the fifth and sixth.

"I was able to eliminate a few things that got me in trouble in those two games," Lyons said, alluding to the walks, errors and hit batters that had stung him in his previous starts. "It's not necessarily that my stuff was any better today than it was at other times. I was just able to eliminate a few things that kept me out of trouble."

He has pitched well enough to have a win on his record if not for a dearth of run support. In Lyons' three starts, the Cardinals have totaled two runs. Lyons has given up seven runs over 18 innings, though four came in one inning against the Pirates.

"It's a shame we haven't been able to score that guy any runs," Matheny said. "He's been throwing the ball very well, and today it was the best he's thrown. It was a great start."

Facing Floyd, the Cardinals had baserunners, but never in bunches. Double plays erased leadoff singles in both the second and fourth. In between, Lyons was stranded at third on Matt Holliday's groundout to the pitcher.

It was Holliday, though, who eventually helped the Cardinals break through. His one-out single in the sixth scored Carpenter from second to tie the game. Carpenter had opened the inning with a walk, his team-most 22nd of the season.

Floyd would strand one more runner in scoring position in the seventh before his night ended with a pitch count of 104.

"I didn't expect that really," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "I expected a guy that's going to scuffle through five, six innings first time out, all that kind of stuff. ... But he sure passed with flying colors. You can't ask for anything more."

The Cardinals would be no more successful against the Atlanta bullpen, which retired all six batters it faced to even the three-game series.

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