Braves-Mets: Resilient Atlanta Wins Afternoon Finale in New York

James HulkaAnalyst IMay 14, 2009

NEW YORK - MAY 13:  Martin Prado #14 of the Atlanta Braves connects for a twelth inning home run against the New York Mets on May 13, 2009 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Martin Prado was the unlikely hero, blasting a 12th-inning home run off Mets reliever Ken Takahashi to lead the Braves to an 8-7 win at Citi Field on Wednesday.

After seeing some excellent starting pitching from both teams in the first two games of the series, I was not surprised to see both starters bounced from the game early, as both Jon Niese of the Mets and Jo-Jo Reyes of the Braves have been inconsistent at best during their brief tenures in the majors.

The Braves jumped on Niese early as Chipper Jones and Garret Anderson each had an RBI in the top of the first, giving Atlanta a 2-0 lead.

However, Reyes gave it right back as he gave up a double, triple, and a walk to the first three Mets hitters. It could have been worse, if not for inducing an around-the-horn double play from Gary Sheffield with runners on first and third, which tied the game at two.

The top of the Braves order went to work again in the top of the third. Jones' second double of the game put runners on second and third with one out. Anderson and Matt Diaz, playing right field for a resting Jeff Francoeur, hit consecutive RBI singles to make the score 4-2.

After setting down six in a row, Reyes again had trouble with his control, walking Carlos Beltran and then giving up two singles to load the bases. Fernando Tatis then hit reliever Buddy Carlyle's second pitch just over the line in dead center for a 6-4 Mets lead.

The Braves scratched back to tie the game, getting sacrifice flies from Jones in the fifth inning, and from Anderson in the seventh, both times scoring Omar Infante from third.

Bobby Cox's decision to pinch-hit Kelly Johnson for the struggling Jordan Schafer in the eighth—with one out and a runner on—turned out to be the right move. Johnson smoked a double into the right field corner off J.J. Putz to give the Braves a 7-6 lead.

Rafael Soriano, after coming on to face the middle of the Mets order in the eighth, got Beltran to fly out. He didn't get a fastball up in the zone enough, and Sheffield tomahawked a letter-high fastball over the left field wall to tie the score at seven.

For the next three innings, the bullpens held firm, as no runner from either team got past second, despite only one half-inning where the side was retired in order (bottom of the 11th).

After Prado belted a 3-2 fastball from Takahashi into the left field seats, Mike Gonzalez came on for the second day in a row for a save. Again, he gave up a leadoff hit, as Jose Reyes doubled, and was advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt. But, Gonzalez struck out  Beltran swinging, and froze Sheffield on a 3-2 slider to end the game.

The Braves head back to Atlanta after concluding an eight-game road trip that produced six wins—two each against the Marlins, Phillies, and Mets. If Greg Gibson doesn't miss that tag on Beltran Tuesday night, the Braves would actually be in first place in the NL East, a half-game in front of the Mets and Phillies, and 1.5 games in front of the struggling Florida Marlins.

Some tidbits and observations from the road trip:

- Jones' elbow may be hurting, but he's still producing. He hit .400 on the road trip in six games, with seven walks, four RBI, three doubles, and five runs scored. The only thing it seems to hinder is his power stroke.

- Jo-Jo Reyes may only have one more start in his Braves career if he doesn't perform well. Tom Glavine may be 43, but he can't be much worse than Reyes has been since his call-up. In four of his five starts, he's failed to pitch at least six innings, and in each of those has surrendered at least four earned runs. That 6.58 ERA is not impressing anyone.

- The Braves offense may not be potent or powerful, but it is much better when the heart of the lineup is healthy and available.

Since Anderson returned from the DL, the Braves are 5-3 with him in the lineup, and 6-3 overall. He's raised his average 30 points and collected all eight of his RBI in the last eight games.

Likewise, the Braves are 4-2 since Brian McCann returned from the DL. The glasses have helped, as he's 9-for-21 in the last six games with one home rune and five RBI. David Ross has filled in very nicely, with a .269-3-9 in McCann's absence. The combined totals of .272-6-21 from the catchers this year has been solid, but Ross is not as dangerous a hitter as McCann

Opposing pitchers can't easily pitch around Jones with Anderson and McCann in the lineup behind him.

- Memo to Bobby Cox: Please don't wear out Soriano and Gonzalez too early. The starters have been very good overall, allowing the bullpen some rest. Wednesday was only the second time this season that a Braves starter didn't make it through five innings in a game that wasn't delayed by rain (Kenshin Kawakami vs. Cincinnati).

Because of the blown call, I can't put a whole lot of blame on Gonzalez for Tuesday night's blown save. Soriano today looked a bit tired, as his fastball didn't quite have the same late life it often has. Here's hoping the starters can string together a few good games against a mediocre offense hosting Arizona this weekend.

The Braves start a 10-game homestand on Friday against the Diamondbacks (three), Rockies (four) and Blue Jays (three). Looking ahead, here are the expected starters.

If you enjoyed Santana vs. Lowe on Monday night, Friday May 22 could be even better. Don't think the outfielders will be too busy that night.

May 15: (ARZ) Doug Davis (2-5, 3.25) vs Javier Vazquez (3-3, 3.88)

May 16: (ARZ) Max Scherzer (0-3, 3.98) vs Kenshin Kawakami (2-4, 5.79)

May 17: (ARZ) Jon Garland (3-2, 5.18) vs Derek Lowe (5-1, 3.80)

May 18: (COL) Jason Marquis (4-3, 5.40) vs Jair Jurrjens (3-2, 2.01)

May 19: (COL) Jason Hammel (0-1, 5.40) vs Jo-Jo Reyes (0-2, 6.58)

May 20: (COL) Jorge de la Rosa (0-3, 3.53) vs Javier Vazquez (3-3, 3.88)

May 21: (COL) Aaron Cook (2-1, 5.03) vs Kenshin Kawakami (2-4, 5.79)

May 22: (TOR) Roy Halladay (7-1, 2.95) vs Derek Lowe (5-1, 3.80)

May 23: (TOR) Scott Richmond (4-2, 4.28) vs Jair Jurrjens (3-2, 2.01)

May 24: (TOR) Brian Tallet (2-1, 4.95) vs Jo-Jo Reyes (0-2, 6.58) or Tom Glavine (NR)