Garrett Jones thought he had it.
He was so sure he had the ball “in the meat pocket of his glove” he turned and looked down to step on first base, thinking he was about to turn a quick and crucial double play.
Only, it wasn’t there. The line drive off the bat of pinch-hitter Ramiro Pena went bouncing down the line in right field — the beginning of the end for the Marlins in a crushing 5-2 loss to the Braves in front of 26,278 fans at Turner Field.
“I don’t know what I could have done differently,” Jones said. “Maybe I could have made sure I made the catch first a little longer. But I thought I kept my eye on it and watched it go right in the glove.
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“It’s tough. Right there we either have at least one, possibly two outs, nobody on and we go from possibly having two outs to having first and third and nobody out. So it definitely changed the game. Against this team, they’ve got a very strong offense. You can’t give them anything. Unfortunately we did. I didn’t come up with it.”
Atlanta (71-64) scored three runs after the ball squirted from Jones — one on a Jason Heyward single to left off Mike Dunn and another pair on Justin Upton’s single to center.
And that was all she wrote pretty much as the Braves put another shovel’s worth of dirt on the Marlins’ playoff hopes. The Marlins (65-68) had won seven series openers in a row before Friday. They’ve now dropped five of their past six games on this road trip as the gap in the wild-card race continues to widen.
“You know coming in there that runs are going to be tight and every play is going to count,” manager Mike Redmond said. “We couldn’t get that shutdown inning and then [Pena’s line drive] ended up being a big play.”
The night was tough all around for Jones.
He struck out with the bases loaded and one out in the first inning — and the Marlins didn’t score.
He made his 13th error of the season in the fifth on a routine grounder, and was then cut down out at the plate in the sixth.
Before the bevy of mistakes, Marlins starter Tom Koehler and Braves starter Ervin Santana were engaged in a pitchers’ duel through the first five innings.
They exchanged zeroes until the top of the sixth when the Marlins strung together three consecutive hits and took a 1-0 lead on Ozuna’s double down the right-field line.
Casey McGehee scored easily from second on the play. But Jones, who was hustling all the way around from first, was gunned out at the plate on a perfect relay throw by Braves second baseman Greg LaStella.
Koehler gave the Marlins six solid innings, striking out six and giving up only only four hits. But he also gave up three leadoff walks and finally paid for the last one in the sixth when Upton deposited a 1-1 fastball into the seats in left-center field to give the Braves a 2-1 lead.
“There is only so many times you can allow a leadoff walk before it comes back and bites you,” Koehler said. “It’s extremely unfortunate. The team did a great job battling and getting me a run. To just give it back like that, I put this game on me. That’s a big zero right there. Who knows, the momentum we carry back into the dugout, and maybe we get some more runs after that.’’
Jordany Valdespin, pinch-hitting for Koehler in the top of the seventh, quickly evened the score at 2 when his fly ball to left field just got over the wall for a solo home run off David Carpenter.
But it wasn’t Jones’ or the Marlins’ night.
“You don’t want to say you want to play mistake-free baseball, but every mistake right now is going to be magnified because we’re playing for something,” Koehler said. “I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘Oh, we lost today, now we’re out of it, we’re done.’ As we’ve shown all year, we’re going to come back tomorrow and keep battling.”