By Mike Steffanos
Mets 10 - Braves 6
Be careful what you wish for. The Braves went into this 3-game set at Turner Field looking for a sweep, but found themselves on the wrong end of things when Jose Valentin slapped the tag on Willy Aybar for the final out of this afternoon's contest. With the Braves' grandiose hopes for another division title utterly squashed, the sinking Braves find themselves in fourth place in the NL east, 15 games back of the Mets with only 58 left to play. Moreover, they have fallen sharply in the wild card chase. After Wednesday's win over Florida they were fourth in that race sitting only 4.5 games out. A mere four days later they have descended back to tenth place, 6.5 games behind the Reds.
As they have all series, the Mets jumped on Braves starter Chuck James early. Carlos Delgado crushed a 2-out, 2-run homer in the first, and Nady drove in David Wright on a double that Andruw Jones got a glove on and failed to catch. The Mets finished James in the second when Carlos Beltran drove a 3-2 pitch into the left field seats with the bases loaded. A bases-loaded walk by Delgado in the third plated the eighth Mets run.
Unfortunately, Tom Glavine continued his disturbing trend of not being able to hold a lead. Staked to a 7-0 lead, he allowed the Braves to gain 3 runs back in the second with 2 men out on Willy Aybar's 2-run single and Renteria's RBI hit. With the bases loaded, Jeff Francoeur actually came to the plate as the tying run, but his hard grounder to Reyes for a force at second was the final out. After a fairly easy third inning, Tom Glavine was struggling again in the fourth, and was once again hurt with 2 outs. Aybar led off with a bloop single, but Glavine retired Giles and Renteria and seemed poised to escape. But consecutive hard-hit balls by Jones, Francoeur and Brian McCann, along with some less-than-stellar defense by Xavier Nady in RF allowed the Braves 3 more runs to close to 8-6, and pushed Glavine over 100 pitches in only 4 innings of work. Willie did not even send Glavine out for the fifth, despite Beltran's solo home run upping the lead back to 9-6.
It became a bullpen game for the Mets, who were well-rested thanks to El Duque yesterday. Darren Oliver gave them a scoreless fifth, and was rewarded with the win. Chad Bradford came in for the sixth. He struck out Andruw Jones, who did little to hurt the Mets over these 3 games. Francoeur got a very lucky bunt base hit, but Bradford got McCann to fly out for the second out. Matt Diaz had a soft base hit to bring up lefty Adam LaRoche as the tying run, Willie countered with Feliciano who went full on LaRoche, then struck him out swinging.
Feliciano stayed in for the seventh, struck out pinch hitter Pete Orr and got Aybar to fly out to Beltran. Giles doubled down the left field line, and Aaron Heilman came in to face Renteria. He induced the Braves shortstop to ground out to Wright for the final out. Staying in for the eighth, Heilman struck out Jones and got Francoer for the second out, but once again a Mets pitcher ran into two-out difficulty. He walked McCann and allowed Matt Diaz' single up the middle to bring LaRoche to the plate again as the tying run. Willie countered with Billy Wagner, taking no chances and asking the closer for a 4-out save. Wagner overwhelmed LaRoche, striking him out swinging.
The Mets tacked on a run in the top of the ninth when Lo Duca, who had a great series, singled home Endy Chavez. Wagner got Todd Pratt looking at a slider for the first out, and then Aybar hit a ball that Valentin made a nice play on, but couldn't throw him out. Marcus Giles came up and Wagner struck him out on a 2-2 fastball. Inexplicably, Aybar was running on the pitch despite the 4-run deficit. Lo Duca's strong throw and a nice tag by Valentin completed the strike out-throw out double play, and the Braves lesson in humility was complete. For Wagner, it was his 22nd save of the season.
Thoughts on the game
Glavine was a little unlucky today, but he's been bad. His control just hasn't been sharp and they're even hitting some of his good pitches well. Watching him today, though, as frustrating as it was I thought he was throwing the ball better. Still, he's shown little consistency and you have to have serious concerns about him. If you're going to place your hope in anything, it's that Glavine was pitching much worse than this last year when he turned his season around. He has to pick it up, or the Mets will have difficulty winning any playoff series.
Why the hell was Aybar trying to steal in the ninth down 4 runs? That's just a horrible baseball play.
Wagner was great today, as he has been all series. The kid at Baseball Prospectus could come with all of his charts and spreadsheets, turn summersaults and use a freaking Ouija board to prove that Wagner wasn't a significant upgrade over Braden Looper, if Wagner keeps pitching like this none of us Met fans are going to give a sh*t. His slider is starting to bite and he is getting both velocity and location on that fastball. Finally, this is what we thought we were getting, and it couldn't have come at a better time.
The previous sentence applies equally to the Mets leading MVP candidate, Mr. Carlos Beltran. Maybe he's still not lighting it up at Shea, but it's hard to argue against a guy that seems to save some of his finest moments for the Braves. When he gets on a roll, it's almost as if he's playing a different game out there. 32 HR, 94 RBIs, and still more than a third of the season left to go. He's becoming the elite caliber of ball player that all the geniuses insisted he would never be when he signed here. Maybe Omar isn't so dumb, after all.
Seriously, look at the guys that Omar has brought in over the past two years -- Beltran, Pedro, Delgado, Lo Duca, Nady, Endy Chavez, Wagner, Valentin, Willie Randolph (yes, Willie Randolph) -- they all played important roles in this 3-game series. You need to pull out the binoculars to see the Braves in that rearview now, and it's all these guys and the man that brought them here that have earned the thanks of Mets fans.
This game is being discussed in the MetsMerized Mets Talk Forum.