MIAMI -- As September has progressed, there have been numerous times when the Braves wondered whether things could get worse.
They received their answer in a rude manner at Sun Life Stadium on Monday night. Moments after Chipper Jones lost a two-out chopper in the lights, Omar Infante victimized Craig Kimbrel with a two-run walk-off homer that gave the Marlins a 6-5 win over the shell-shocked Braves.
"It's a [bad, bad] way to lose a ballgame," second baseman Dan Uggla said. "But at the same time, it's nobody's fault. It's the way the cards fell. There's nothing you can do about it."
Given the circumstances, this undoubtedly was one of the worst losses the Braves have suffered this season. As soon as Infante drilled his game-winning shot into the left-field seats, his former Atlanta teammates were forced to deal with the fact that they continue to flirt with being on the wrong side of an epic collapse.
"It's a funny game," Jones said. "Just when you think you've got it figured out, it will kick you in the gut."
Seemingly a lock to gain a playoff berth over the past month, the Braves have lost 12 of their past 18 games and can no longer assume they'll be playing in October.
With their win over the Phillies on Monday, the Cardinals moved to within 2 1/2 games in the National League Wild Card race. It's the closest any team has been to Atlanta since Arizona faced the same deficit on Aug. 4.
The Braves had a 10 1/2-game lead over the Cardinals as recently as Aug. 25.
"Nobody said this was going to be easy," Uggla said. "We're going to keep our heads up and come back tomorrow."
While playing the previous five seasons for the Marlins in a multipurpose stadium that is also used for football, Uggla had seen infielders lose ground balls and choppers in the lights. But it's safe to say that he never saw a more untimely instance than the one that robbed him and his teammates of a much-needed victory.
Jones said that the only other stadium in which he has experienced something similar was in San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium, which once served as home to both the Padres and the NFL's Chargers.
"When you play baseball in a football stadium, I guess that happens from time to time," he said. "It's just extremely bad timing. It's a pretty helpless feeling when the game should be over and I had no clue where the ball was after it bounced."
With a runner on first base and two outs, Kimbrel was still in control. But after buzzing Infante with a first-pitch fastball, the rookie closer grooved a fastball that his former teammate sent over the left-field wall for his first career walk-off homer.
Kimbrel's seventh blown save of the season was his second in his past four chances. The 23-year-old right-hander had allowed just one homer in the first 94 1/3 innings of his career before surrendering one to Mets outfielder Lucas Duda in a non-save situation on Sunday.
"I fell behind in the count," Kimbrel said. "I just threw a pitch to get ahead. You saw what he did with it. Today is over. We have to come back tomorrow."
Two innings earlier it appeared that Infante was going to serve as the goat. After the Marlins gained a three-run deficit courtesy of Logan Morrison's three-run homer off Mike Minor in the sixth inning, the Braves battled back with a go-ahead four-run seventh that was aided by three walks, an infield single and Infante's inability to cleanly field Jones' two-out grounder.
Uggla opened the seventh with his 35th homer, and Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco exited after issuing consecutive walks to load the bases. Michael Bourn's infield single cut the deficit to one run, and the Braves tied the score when Martin Prado drew a four-pitch bases-loaded walk off Ryan Webb. Jones then followed with a grounder that Infante bobbled before making a throw that took Gaby Sanchez off first base.
That error gave the Braves the lead, and all seemed right when Jonny Venters bounced back from Sunday's rough outing with a perfect eighth inning. But with two outs in the ninth, it all went wrong.
"We took advantage of some of their mistakes, and we felt like tonight was going to be our night to win one that maybe we should have lost," Jones said. "One strike away, and you lose a ground ball in the lights."
It did not appear as though the Braves would have a late lead to blow after Nolasco needed just 37 pitches to prove perfect through the first four innings. He lost his shutout bid when Jason Heyward opened the sixth inning with a solo homer that cut into the two-run advantage the Marlins gained with Mike Stanton's two home runs off Minor.
Stanton hit a towering first-inning blast that traveled into the upper deck down the left-field line. Two innings later, the 21-year-old outfielder victimized Minor with a line-drive homer that sailed over the wall in left-center.
"This was good to get that turnaround and at least be the spoilers, since we're obviously out [of playoff contention]," Stanton said. "Maybe do something to impact the playoffs a little bit."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.