ST. LOUIS -- Watching Atlanta's offense sustain the patient approach that the Cardinals have regularly utilized to frustrate opponents, St. Louis endured a pair of firsts on Sunday.
Those included a loss for Lance Lynn, previously 6-0, and a series sweep at the hands of the Braves, whose 21-9 record since April 10 is the best in the Majors. Stung by a full-count fastball to Atlanta's Jason Heyward and some hiccups by the bullpen, St. Louis dropped the series finale, 7-4, in front of a Busch Stadium crowd of 45,729.
"They just fought," manager Mike Matheny said of an Atlanta offense that scored all of its runs with two outs. "They didn't really back off. They just kept fighting, regardless of the outs, regardless of the count. ... It was a nightmare for us."
The Braves' patient approach put Lynn in a spot similar to the one Adam Wainwright fell in the night before. His pitch count escalated rapidly -- it sat at 81 after three innings -- and Lynn's command, at times, wavered.
Though he walked three, allowed three hits and hit a batter in those first three frames, Lynn's pitch count was particularly affected by Atlanta's ability to extend at-bats. The Braves fouled off 27 pitches in those three innings.
"I was missing a lot of spots and they were making me fight for every out I got," Lynn said. "That lineup will do that to you."
Six of those foul balls came during a battle between Lynn and Heyward in the third. The Braves had loaded the bases with a two-out single and two walks. Heyward, who delivered a game-winning homer on Friday, drove the 10th pitch he saw in the at-bat into the right-field corner.
It was a bases-clearing double and the seventh consecutive fastball Lynn threw in the at-bat.
"I could have gone any other way, but I stuck with what's gotten me here and that's the fastball," Lynn said. "I was making good pitches and he was spoiling them until he got one he could do something with."
Said Heyward: "I just tried to keep perfecting my timing on every pitch. I just wanted to get a pitch to hit and hit it, or get a walk. I know it took a lot of out of him."
Lynn did go on to retire the final nine batters he faced, as Matheny maximized his use of the right-hander. Lynn threw a season-high 121 pitches and struck out seven for the fourth time.
Several factors went into Matheny's decision to push Lynn through six. The right-hander was getting stronger as his pitch count progressed, and the Cardinals already had a wearied bullpen. Also, Matheny wanted to give the offense every chance to rally and put Lynn in position for the win.
"He had to fight pretty hard today," Matheny said. "I thought he showed a lot by going out there and pitching as deep as he did."
Lynn entered the day as the Majors' only six-game winner and boasting the league's third-lowest ERA. That ERA ticked up to 1.81 by the end of the outing. He was attempting to become the first pitcher to win seven straight games to open a season since Brandon Webb won his first nine with Arizona in 2008.
"I'm not worried about how I started," Lynn said of the string of wins. "I'm worried about what I have next."
The Cardinals' offense came alive in the bottom half of the sixth, its final chance to grab the lead in time for Lynn to be credited with a win. Carlos Beltran took over the National League lead in homers, belting his 13th to start the inning. A pair of singles followed and knocked Atlanta starter Tommy Hanson from the game.
But reliever Chad Durbin retired David Freese, while pinch-hitters Matt Holliday and Tyler Greene could not close the deficit.
It was the second run-scoring opportunity missed by St. Louis, which also had one in the first. Hanson opened his start by walking two, and both Jon Jay and Rafael Furcal moved up with stolen bases. Hanson answered by striking out three straight to leave both runners stranded.
"You've got 3-4-5 [hitters] coming up, you'd like to get at least one, probably two out of that," said Lance Berkman, one of the three to strike out. "He did a good job of pitching out of that jam."
Added Allen Craig: "He didn't leave much over the plate to hit. It was either, in, out, up or down. There was nothing to really set your sights on."
Though Craig struck out in his first two at-bats against Hanson, he finished the day with three straight hits. The last was a three-run blast with two out in the ninth. By then, though, the Braves' lead had stretched to six. Atlanta scored three times off reliever Victor Marte and once against Kyle McClellan.
The homer was Craig's fifth in 39 at-bats since coming off the disabled list. He already has 16 RBIs.
"What's unfortunate for him is that he is an everyday middle-of-the-order kind of guy, but we have four or five of those on this team," Berkman said of Craig. "He is certainly a dynamic young hitter."
Furcal finished the game with three hits to extend his hitting streak to 12 games. It's the longest by a Cardinal this season. Furcal leads the team with 16 multi-hit games.
As a team, the Cards wrapped up the series 5-for-22 with runners in scoring position and struck out 36 times. The club was last swept at home in August 2011, by the Dodgers.
"It's disappointing," Craig said. "If we would have come through a couple times with runners on base, things would have been a little bit closer."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.