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ATL@HOU: Schafer belts a three-run homer in the ninth

HOUSTON -- The Braves' bats seem to disappear when Derek Lowe steps on the mound, and so too did Atlanta's six-game winning streak Monday night.

Lowe, who entered the series finale against the Astros with the sixth-lowest run support in the National League, allowed five runs in 5 1/3 innings, while the Braves were held scoreless through eight innings in an 8-3 loss at Minute Maid Park.

"I wouldn't say [Lowe] didn't have it," said manager Fredi Gonzalez. "He gave up 10 ground-ball outs, and I don't even know how many singles went through the hole."

Lowe had received six no-decisions in his past eight starts, despite the Braves winning all six of those games.

He would have needed a lot of help the way Astros hitters roughed up the Braves' pitching staff on Monday. Houston blasted 13 hits in the first seven innings, with eight against Lowe and five combined against Scott Linebrink and George Sherrill.

Lowe, who wasn't available after the game, had allowed three runs when he was pulled in the sixth inning after surrendering hits to three of the first four Astros hitters in the frame.

"I think the approach at the plate was good to make sure he gave us some good pitches to hit," said Astros manager Brad Mills.

Lowe was responsible for both runners on the corners when he handed the ball to Linebrink, who allowed a pinch-hit RBI double to Matt Downs, a Clint Barmes sacrifice fly and a Hunter Pence two-run single, which extended Houston's lead to 7-0.

Wandy Rodriguez shut the Braves down in his first start since coming off the disabled list with left elbow discomfort, blanking the Braves over six innings.

"I thought Wandy was pretty good," Gonzalez said. "[He] snuck out of some of those jams early on, and we just couldn't get anything going."

Atlanta wasted its opportunities against the southpaw early.

Jordan Schafer doubled and Dan Uggla walked to begin the first inning before Brian McCann and Chipper Jones were retired. It marked the third straight game Schafer and Uggla reached base in the first inning.

Freddie Freeman then walked to set up a bases-loaded, two-out situation for Joe Mather, who struck out swinging.

Atlanta threatened again in the third inning after McCann and Jones reached base with two outs, but went away scoreless as Freeman struck out to end the frame.

The Braves' only runs came in the ninth inning when Schafer drilled a three-run shot -- his first of the year -- off Brandon Lyon.

Schafer went 2-for-5 on Monday and 6-for-17 in the series with four stolen bases.

"He's a nice little player," Gonzalez said. "He ran down a couple balls in the outfield, both gaps, and he's got that speed game and can also hit a ball out of the ballpark. He's making a nice little show for himself here."

Schafer said he was more disappointed about not moving Lowe to third base after the pitcher doubled in the fifth inning than he was excited about his home run.

"It's a whole different game if I bunt that guy over," Schafer said. "A ground ball gets him in, and its 2-1 and we've got some momentum going. I've got to do a lot better job on that."

Schafer flew out to center field before the next two Braves were retired in the fifth inning. Atlanta trailed, 2-0, at that point after Pence's two-run home run in the third inning, which extended the right fielder's Major League-leading hitting streak to 23 games.

"It's important for us to go out there and try to get an early lead, especially with Wandy coming back," Astros first baseman Brett Wallace said. "You want to try to give him a little bit of a margin for error. We went once through the lineup and weren't able to do that, and then Hunter comes up with that big hit, and everybody relaxes a little."

McCann said he made the wrong choice telling Lowe to throw a fastball to Pence while ahead in the count.

"We had him 0-2 with two outs, those are hard to swallow," McCann said. "He gets through that inning, it might be a different outcome tonight."

Pence, who sat out Sunday with back pain, went 3-for-4 with a walk and four RBIs.

An Atlanta win would have marked the first time in franchise history the Braves went undefeated against the Astros for the season. It also would have marked the first four-game sweep against Houston since 2005.

The Braves began their 10-game, 11-day road trip going 1-2 against the Mets before winning six of their next seven games.

"Any time you go 7-3 in a tough road trip, a long road trip, you'll take it," said Gonzalez. "I'm proud of the way the guys played after that first series in New York. We really played some good baseball." Comments