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Braves' support for Wood ends early in loss to Bucs

After rare run in first, Atlanta adds one in second before being stifled

ATLANTA -- Given the meager amount of support he and Atlanta's other starting pitchers have received lately, Alex Wood had reason to be thrilled when the Braves scored one run in each of Tuesday night's first two innings. But that proved to be the end of the contributions for Wood, who allowed the Pirates to rally and clinch a postseason berth with a 3-2 victory.

"I thought I made some good pitches when I had to, and some bad ones when I had to, too. You've got to tip your cap to Gerrit Cole," Wood said. "He gave up two runs early, beared down and then threw a pretty good game after that."

After gaining the early advantage, Wood fell victim to Starling Marte, who used his legs and bat to help the Pirates clinch the National League Wild Card spot that the Braves had been legitimately vying for before a 4-16 September. The Pirates, who could still win the NL Central, staged their postgame celebration exactly one week after the Nationals had soiled Turner Field's visitors' clubhouse with champagne after clinching the NL East.

"It stinks," Braves third baseman Chris Johnson said. "There's a lot of guys who don't want to feel like this again. Hopefully in the offseason, guys will work hard and come back in and make it so that we're out there celebrating and not everybody else."

Some Braves players have said they're aiming to finish the season with a .500 record, a mark they can only reach if they win each of their final five games. But worn down by a stretch in which his team has lost 20 of its last 28, Johnson is setting a more attainable goal.

"I think right now, we're just trying to win one game, rather than get to .500," Johnson said. "I'd like to win tomorrow."

It looked like the Braves might notch a rare win when three of their first four batters of the night recorded a hit or drew a walk against Cole. But Freddie Freeman's RBI double accounted for the only resulting run for the Braves, who had not scored in the first inning since Aug. 27. Freeman was thrown out attempting to advance to third base on the play, and Justin Upton was caught stealing after he delivered a two-out single.

"When you're not scoring runs and you try to be aggressive on the basepath, I'm OK with that," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

It might be hard for some to imagine that the Braves have scored two runs or fewer in 17 of their past 28 games. But those who have watched the team on a daily basis were not shocked to see an Andrelton Simmons double-play groundout account for the only run they tallied after loading the bases with none out in the second inning.

After totaling at least two runs through the first two innings for the first time since Sept. 3, the Braves went silent against Cole, who retired the final 17 batters he faced during his seven-inning effort.

"[Cole] settled in pretty good," Johnson said. "He didn't miss many spots. He didn't give in at all, and kind of took over the game after the second inning."

Though he was given some early help, this proved to be yet another frustrating outing for Wood, who surrendered three runs -- two earned -- and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings. The young lefty has produced a 1.92 ERA in his past 10 starts. But he has little to show for his efforts because the Braves have scored two runs or fewer while he has still been a pitcher of record in eight of his past 11 starts.

Wood's biggest mistake of the night was a misplaced fastball that Travis Snider drilled over the right-field wall for a game-tying homer to begin the fifth inning. He seemed more at ease with what led to the two other runs he surrendered.

"Anytime you score early, no matter what the situation is, it's always nice," Wood said. "You'd like to bear down a little bit more than I did. I made a couple mistakes. That one to Snider, you can't miss big. Up here, you have to miss small when you miss, and it was just a really big miss and he made me pay for it."

Wood stranded a pair of runners in the first inning with a strikeout of Marte. But the Pirates' outfielder exacted revenge when he reached down and directed a decisive double to left-center field with one out in the sixth inning. Andrew McCutchen had put himself in position to score with a leadoff double that only enhanced his bid to win a second consecutive NL Most Valuable Player Award.

The Pirates cracked the scoreboard when some aggressive baserunning allowed them to manufacture a run with one out and runners at the corners in the fourth inning.

Seemingly attempting to get in a rundown, Marte broke toward second base late with a delayed steal attempt. When this induced an errant throw from Christian Bethancourt to a late-breaking Phil Gosselin, McCutchen scored in uncontested fashion.

"It was just a throw that he came up chucking and just didn't reset," Gonzalez said. "He used his arm and the ball tailed on him."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for
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