Mets 4 Braves 3
The Mets needed to only take one game in this series, and they did it — and now have an opportunity to win the series and gain another game on the Braves.
Once again, Orlando Hernandez rose to the occasion, matching John Smoltz pitch for pitch until the sixth inning. Just as important, the Mets offense showed mettle and gumption, coming from behind late in the game to tie and then win the game.
As mentioned in the previous game recap, the hot and humid, heavy air in Shea Stadium was an advantage for El Duque, who relied almost exclusively on sharp breaking pitches of all speeds the first two times through the Atlanta lineup. The third time through, however, the Braves turned the tables on Hernandez, scratching out three runs in the top of the sixth inning. El Duque struck out the first two batters of the inning, but then Willie Harris worked an excellent 10-pitch at-bat that took the steam out of Hernandez. Kelly Johnson, Chipper Jones, and Mark Teixeira followed Harris with consecutive base hits, and just like that the Braves were up 3-1.
Meantime, the Mets were only able to manufacture one run — in the first inning — off John Smoltz, who didn’t have great command of his fastball but was spot on with the slider. Jose Reyes led off the game with a base hit, made it to second on a pickoff attempt gone awry, was sacrificed to third by Luis Castillo, and came home on a David Wright sac fly. The Mets didn’t threaten again until the bottom of the seventh.
Shawn Green started the Mets’ seventh with a single up the middle, his third hit of the game off Smoltz. After Paul LoDuca flied out, Lastings Milledge singled off reliever Pat Mahay, and pinch-hitter Damion Easley walked to load the bases. Jose Reyes flied out to shallow right, and it looked like the Mets were not going to take advantage of the rally. However, Luis Castillo dropped a single into center to score Green and Milledge to tie the game.
Aaron Heilman then came on to pitch a scoreless eighth, and in the bottom of the inning Moises Alou blasted a homerun off Rafael Soriano to put the Mets ahead 4-3.
Billy Wagner came on the ninth, but it wasn’t exactly a done deal when Enter Sandman was played. Wagner had no command of his fastball and fell behind 2-0 to Chipper Jones before Jones lined a single. Teixeira followed with another single, and Chris Woodward was brought in to bunt for Brian McCann. Wags walked Woodward on five pitches, throwing the ball all over the place, to load the bases with none out. Miraculously, he found the plate long enough to get hot-hitting Francoeur to ground a ball to David Wright, who threw to home for the forceout. Andrew Jones followed with a grounder to Castillo that resulted in the game-ending double play.
Paul LoDuca threw out Willie Harris attempting to steal in the eighth to thwart a potential rally. It was a key moment, as Kelly Johnson was at the plate and Larry Jones on deck and who knows what might have ensued if Harris were safe.
Shawn Green went 4-for-4 and has a nine-game hitting streak.
Luis Castillo went 2-for-3 with 2 RBI (his first two RBI as a Met) and a sac bunt; he’s hitting .344 as a Met this year.
Alou’s homer was his first as a Met at Shea.
El Duque went 7 innings, allowing 3 runs on 4 hits and 2 walks, and striking out 7.
Another camp day, as the Mets and Braves face off at 12:10 PM. John Maine takes the hill against Tim Hudson. Since it’s a weekday afternoon game, we’ll likely see Ramon Castro behind the plate and Ruben Gotay at second base. Maybe the noontime start will throw Hudson off his game.