A trying week for the New York Mets could end on a very good note if they can slow down one of baseball’s hottest teams.
With a chance this weekend to cut their deficit in the NL East in half, the Mets open a three-game set against a rolling Atlanta Braves team that has once again taken control of the division.
This week started for New York with an embarrassing 19-10 loss to the Montreal Expos on Monday. Later that night, outfielder Shane Spencer was arrested and charged with driving under the influence, leading the team to suspend him without pay. In Wednesday’s 7-4 loss to Montreal, oft-injured second baseman Jose Reyes twisted his right ankle and had to leave the game.
Plus, left fielder Cliff Floyd made public comments this week implying he would retire when his contract expires in 2006, potentially hurting his trade value and angering Mets management.
Floyd was given a day off Thursday and replaced in the lineup by Eric Valent, who gave New York a much-needed lift as he hit for the eighth cycle in team history as the Mets beat the Expos 10-1.
“What a good day for the Mets,” said New York outfielder Mike Cameron, who homered twice.
New York, which had lost 11 of 15 before Thursday’s win, now faces a Braves club which has won 15 of 20 to build a 3 1/2 -game lead over Florida and Philadelphia in the NL East. The Mets are six games back of Atlanta, which is seeking its 13th consecutive division title.
“We haven’t been in a position to put pressure on people in a while, and now that we’re in first place and winning maybe that conjures up some, `Aw, shoot, they’re winning again and they’re winning the games they’ve always won before,”’ Braves closer John Smoltz said.
Atlanta’s hot streak includes two victories last weekend over the Mets. Mike Hampton got the win in Sunday’s 4-3 victory, allowing three runs and five hits in six innings. He’ll look to beat his former team for the second consecutive start.
After winning just twice in his first 15 outings this season, Hampton has won all four of his starts this month while posting a 2.96 ERA. His ERA entering July was 5.55.
“He’s winning because he’s not giving up as many cheap hits,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “You give up a couple of those. Somebody gets a hit and it’s two runs. You feel you’re throwing great, but there are two runs on the board.”