ST. LOUIS -- All season, the Braves have been searching for that elusive big hit with runners in scoring position. That search continued in a frustrating 5-2 loss to the Cardinals on Friday night.
The Braves couldn't capitalize on prime opportunities in the first, second, fourth and fifth innings, before the Cardinals broke the game open with a three-run fifth before 43,701 at Busch Stadium.
"We just couldn't really come up with that big hit," third baseman Chris Johnson said. "They did a good job of doing what we didn't. When they got guys on, they got some key hits."
The Braves scattered eight hits against the Cardinals. It is the 18th consecutive game the Braves have failed to reach double-digit hits, a streak that dates back to April 25.
"It seems we only get one guy hot or maybe two guys and they are so far apart in the lineup that we don't get it going," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
The Cardinals broke open a back and forth game in the fifth. Matt Holliday started the salvo by doubling home Matt Carpenter to give the Cardinals their first lead of the night. St. Louis added two more in the frame on an RBI single from Allen Craig and a sacrifice fly by Yadier Molina to make it 5-2.
Braves starter Ervin Santana's night ended after the fifth. The five runs and 10 hits allowed were both season highs for the right-hander, the five innings pitched was a season low and his record dropped to 4-1.
"I think I'll look back at the chart or the film, but a couple times where he got hit, he was ahead of the count; up 1-2 a couple of times, and pitches that maybe weren't located as well as he has," Gonzalez said. "But he competes, and I feel that anytime he goes out there he gives us a good chance to win a ballgame."
Atlanta threatened in each of the first two innings and broke through in the second on a Tyler Pastornicky single. Johnson started the rally with an infield single that ricocheted off Cardinals starter Lance Lynn's left ankle. Andrelton Simmons followed with a single. Johnson was erased at third on Santana's bunt attempt, but Pastornicky drove home Simmons with a two-out liner up the middle for a 1-0 lead.
The Cardinals evened it up in their half of the second on a Matt Adams RBI double. Adams' shot to straightaway center barely eluded B.J. Upton's glove and gave the Cardinals runners on second and third with nobody out. But Santana pitched out of trouble, getting a key strikeout of Peter Bourjos and inducing Lynn to ground out to keep the game tied.
The Braves regained the lead in the fourth. Johnson led off with a double, moved to third on an Upton single and scored when Simmons grounded into a double play to make it 2-1.
St. Louis again tied it in the bottom half, when Craig scored on a wild pitch.
"They're very aggressive, and sometimes I would get the people in two strikes and just throw a pitch and it went right back to the middle, so that was a mistake," Santana said. "Every time you make a mistake, you know how it is."
The Cardinals lost both Bourjos and manager Mike Matheny when they were ejected at the end of the fourth, after Bourjos struck out swinging to end the inning. He had been called out on strikes in the second.
Consecutive one-out walks in the fifth to Jason Heyward and Justin Upton gave Atlanta runners on first and second with the heart of the order coming up. Lynn looked to be uncomfortable on the mound, whether it was due to a throbbing foot or his frustration with the strike zone. But Lynn, who has been prone to giving up big innings, buckled down to get Freddie Freeman to fly out to left and Evan Gattis to ground into a forceout.
Lynn, after giving up seven hits through four innings, went seven innings and retired the last eight batters he faced. He improved to 5-2.
"I think he settled in," Johnson said. "He settled in and started making his pitches. I think we capitalized on some pitches early in the game that he kind of left out over the plate, and towards that fourth, fifth and sixth inning he settled in and really started hitting his spots and throwing multiple pitches for strikes, and it makes it tough that way."
Matheny said Lynn has a penchant for getting better as the game goes on.
"He's been known to do that in the past, too. The further he goes, the better he looks," Matheny said. "And sometimes I think it just takes a little of that extra movement off when he gets a little bit tired. He had a great day. The ankle is pretty swollen right now. He was able to get it wrapped, the trainers took care of it well to allow him to keep making good pitches.
"It was just a good outing all the way around. He kept things under control and didn't let it mount up at all today."
Trevor Rosenthal picked up his 12th save with a perfect ninth, striking out two.
Joe Harris is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.