MIAMI -- While the finale might not have been as ugly as the first two acts, its result provided a fitting finish to what proved to be a short trip the Braves would like to soon forget.
After getting pounded during the first two games of this week's three-game set at Marlins Park, the Braves squandered a seventh-inning lead on Thursday night and then watched the Marlins complete a sweep with a 5-4 win.
"They played well," Braves third baseman Chris Johnson said after his fourth three-hit game of the year went unrewarded. "They kicked our butts the first couple of nights, and they came up with timely hitting tonight and grinded one out. We just have to regroup and go home and back in it."
If it could go wrong this week, it did for the Braves, who had won eight of nine series before being swept for the first time since last September. The 1.57 ERA their starting rotation brought to Miami was tarnished as Alex Wood and Aaron Harang combined to allow the Marlins 16 earned runs during the first two games. But the ultimate knockout was delivered against Atlanta's bullpen, which entered Thursday having allowed just three runs in 26 1/3 innings over the previous eight games.
B.J. Upton erased Ervin Santana's early deficit with a three-run home run in the third inning, and Evan Gattis added to Marlins starter Henderson Alvarez's damage with a sixth-inning solo home run that gave the Braves' bullpen a chance to hold a one-run lead.
Luis Avilan served as Atlanta's most reliable setup man last year, and five of the six runs charged against him this year were tallied in one game. But the left-hander has struggled with his command as witnessed on Wednesday, when he allowed the Marlins to load the bases in the eighth.
Thus instead of going with his veteran, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez turned to rookie southpaw Ian Thomas to begin the seventh, during which two of Miami's first three hitters were left-handed. Reed Johnson and Christian Yelich blooped singles to left field before Thomas exited with two on and one out.
"That's part of the game," said Thomas, who began his fourth consecutive season of independent league baseball just two years ago. "They're going to get their hits and we're going to get ours."
David Carpenter entered to clean Thomas' mess and was promptly hurt by a defensive shift that Giancarlo Stanton took advantage of to shoot a game-tying RBI single through the infield's right side. Though the shift had denied Stanton from recording singles up the middle a few times over the past week, it was not effective as the Marlins slugger was not able to get around on Carpenter's 95-mph heater.
Casey McGehee then delivered the decisive blow, when he went the other way with another RBI single off Carpenter. Within a span of four singles, two that were bloopers, another that beat a shift and the last which went the opposite way, the Braves had blown what stood as the last of the two leads they held during this series.
"When [they're] going good, those things fall in," Gonzalez said. "When you're not going good, those things get through."
After A.J. Ramos loaded the bases in the eighth by issuing consecutive two-out walks to Chris Johnson and Andrelton Simmons, Marlins closer Steve Cishek escaped the threat by striking out Ramiro Pena. Cishek completed his first multi-inning appearance of the season with a perfect ninth that concluded with him inducing a lazy opposite-field flyout by Freddie Freeman, who went 0-for-24 during the six games against the Marlins over the past two weeks.
"We've pitched him tough," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said of Freeman, who has hit .395 against all other opponents this year. "You talk about that lineup, you saw that tonight. Those guys can put a big number up quick. They've got a lot of power."
While he certainly was not at his best on Thursday, Santana managed to limit the Marlins to three earned runs and five hits in six innings. His effort positioned him to beat Alvarez, who was charged with four earned runs in six innings.
Santana had surrendered two runs through his first 26 innings this season before allowing a pair of runs during each of his final two innings on Friday against the Reds. His bid to stop the sudden bleeding quickly faded as the Marlins tagged him for a run in each of the first two innings and added another in the fourth.
McGehee's first-inning double to left field scored Derek Dietrich from first base with the game's first run. The Marlins increased their lead to 2-0 when Garrett Jones opened the bottom of the second inning by sending a home run over the right-field wall. Santana also allowed Adeiny Hechavarria to record a game-tying fielder's choice in the fourth inning.
"The first inning, that was not me, but after that in the third and on, everything was better," Santana said. "I had better feel for my offspeed and my fastball."
The Braves erased their early deficit in the third inning, which began with a Santana single -- the third hit the long-time American League hurler has recorded in 14 at-bats this season. After a replay review awarded Jason Heyward an infield single, B.J. Upton drilled a go-ahead three-run home run over the left-field wall.
In the end, Upton's second homer of the season and Gattis' sixth in his past 47 at-bats was not enough to end the miseries the Braves experienced this week in Miami.
"We have to erase everything," Santana said. "We have to come tomorrow and play a new game with a fresh mentality."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.