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AP photo by Scott Cunningham / From left, Atlanta Braves outfielders Nick Markakis, Ronald Acuna Jr. and Matt Joyce speak in the top of the ninth inning during Game 1 of the team's NL Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday.

Chalk up another disappointment for America's (Regular-Season) Team.

Yes, the Atlanta Braves went down fighting in Thursday night's 7-6 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in the opening game of their best-of-five National League Division Series at SunTrust Park.

And everything you've loathed and loved about these Bravos all season was on display in that horrific, (almost) terrific ninth inning.

The bullpen once more collapsed, giving up four runs in the top of the inning. Then the Braves' bats, arguably as lethal as any in baseball this season, almost pulled off a historic comeback, swiftly getting back three of those runs on two homers — a two-run blast by Ronald Acuña Jr. and a solo shot off the recently docile bat of Freddie Freeman.

The problem is, as TBS analyst Ron Darling pointed out, no team has ever come from four down in the ninth to win a playoff game, and the Braves weren't stout enough to become the first.

So all that hard work to build a strong enough record to host a division series is kaput after one game. The Cardinals now have home-field advantage. Of greater concern to the Braves after this gut-wrenching, come-from-ahead loss is that they must now face the hottest pitcher in the National League over the final half of the season in Jack Flaherty.

All Flaherty has done over his past 16 regular-season starts is post a 0.93 ERA.

Not that the Braves have no hope for Friday's Game 2, which has a scheduled first pitch of 4:37 p.m. with TBS televising the game . Atlanta is expected to send Mike Foltynewicz to the mound, and Folty owns a 6-1 record and 2.65 ERA since returning to the club in early August after being sent down to the minors earlier in the season.

There is no ideal opponent for Flaherty, but given manager Brian Snitker's decision to start Mike Soroka in Game 3, thanks to his 1.55 ERA away from home, Foltynewicz makes sense.

In fact, all of Snitker's pitching moves made sense Thursday save perhaps the insertion of battered reliever Luke Jackson in the eighth.

Jackson certainly has had his good moments. But he's also had an alarming tendency to give up at least one hit almost every time he enters the game. In the eighth, the Braves up 3-1, he gave up a homer to the Cards' Paul Goldschmidt that was the first of six straight runs the Redbirds would score in the eighth and ninth innings.

One move Snitker didn't make that he certainly would have been correct to was to have benched Acuña after he failed to run out a hit that could have been a double had he not dogged it to first.

That failure to hustle in the seventh arguably cost Atlanta a run after the way the rest of the game played out. Making it worse, this was remarkably similar to an issue Snitker had with Acuña in August, when he took him out of the game for remarkably similar behavior.

Of course, had Snitker repeated such discipline this time around, Acuña wouldn't have been around to smack that towering two-run homer in the ninth.

Still — and knowing well the old baseball maxim that momentum in baseball is the next day's starting pitcher — this will be a tough loss to swallow with less than 20 hours to recover.

And it's not just the fact that Game 1 winners in best-of-five series have gone on to win those series 70% of the time. There's something snake-bit about this franchise come the playoffs. There's the "outfield pop fly" call that cost the Braves a wild-card game against the Cardinals in 2012, as odd a call as has ever been seen.

There was the tall and talented reliever Chris Martin exiting the eighth inning without throwing a pitch after injuring his oblique muscle. Early word is that he's lost for the series. Given that Martin would have almost certainly have been on the mound instead of Jackson, that alone may have done the Braves in.

It must also be troubling to Braves Nation that the Cardinals — the NL's best defensive team during the regular season — made three errors on Thursday, which led to at least a couple of Braves runs.

Point is, in a game in which St. Louis didn't exactly play its best — including hitting into two inning-ending double plays at third — the visitors still found a way to win and Atlanta found yet another way to lose its ninth straight Game 1 in a playoff series, which is, according to Fox Sports, a major league record.

This is not to say the situation can't change for the Braves. Flaherty reportedly is human, which means he could struggle with the same playoff jitters that often befall young superstars, given he's all of 23 years old.

There are also all those Atlanta bats to contend with, as were on display in the bottom of the ninth.

Or as Darling noted: "The first four hitters in this Braves lineup are as good as any in the game."

Unfortunately, the Atlanta bullpen once more looked like one of baseball's four worst.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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