Mets 6, Braves 1

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ATLANTA (AP)—At last, Willie Randolph can light up that victory cigar. And fittingly, he has Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran to thank for it.

Martinez pitched a two-hitter, Beltran hit a go-ahead homer and the New York Mets finally won their first game of the season Sunday, overcoming John Smoltz’s 15 strikeouts in a 6-1 win over the Atlanta Braves.

Before the season, star catcher Mike Piazza gave Randolph a cigar to smoke in celebration of his first victory. But the rookie manager had to wait seven long days as the Mets struggled to an 0-5 start—their worst since 1963.

“I’ve got it in my bag and I’m definitely going to smoke it when we get home,” Randolph said, smiling.

Boosted by the victory, the Mets now head to New York for their home opener Monday against Houston.

The Mets trailed 1-0 before Beltran’s two-run homer chased Smoltz in the eighth. Cliff Floyd and David Wright connected later in the inning, and Martinez retired his final 16 batters in his fourth career two-hitter.

“That was the best pitching I’ve ever seen in my career,” New York first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz said.

Martinez (1-0) struck out nine and walked only one. After the bullpen cost him a win on opening day in Cincinnati, the Mets’ new ace finished this one himself for his 43rd career complete game.

“Pedro said, ‘I’m not coming out,”’ Randolph said. “That’s just the kind of warrior he is.”

Martinez was signed to a $53 million, four-year deal in the offseason to give the team a stopper—and that’s exactly what he did.

“Everybody was like, ‘We’ve got to get going,’ and I joined them, too,” he said.

After the last out, Randolph received hugs and handshakes in the dugout.

“It’s your first one, so it’s always special when you get that one out of the way,” he said.

Smoltz (0-2) tied his Atlanta record for strikeouts and led 1-0 through seven innings. But Jose Reyes led off the eighth with a single and moved up on Miguel Cairo’s sacrifice before Beltran drove a 2-1 pitch over the right-field fence.

Smoltz kicked the chalk on the first base line as he walked off the field and tipped his cap in response to a standing ovation from the Turner Field crowd of 36,601.

Even after the home run, he wanted to stay in the game.

“I felt like I was as strong as I needed to be and I didn’t have one second thought in the eighth inning,” he said.

Smoltz pitched 7 1-3 innings, giving up eight hits and two runs with no walks. He set the Atlanta record with 15 strikeouts against Montreal on May 24, 1992.

“It’s not a good sign going into a game 0-5 and facing that dude,” said Floyd, who struck out in each of his three at-bats against Smoltz before hitting a home run off reliever Tom Martin. “It wasn’t fun.”

Smoltz said Beltran “hit a pretty good pitch.”

“It wasn’t the best curveball that I’ve thrown, but it wasn’t the worst,” Smoltz said.

Beltran’s shot seemed to relax the Mets. Held to a combined four runs while never leading in the first two games of the series, they added three more in the eighth and one in the ninth to break the game open.

After Floyd’s homer, Mientkiewicz followed with a double off the wall to chase Martin. Wright hit a two-run shot off Roman Colon for a 5-1 lead.

Beltran added a run-scoring single in the ninth off Jorge Sosa.

Martinez didn’t match Smoltz’s strikeouts, but he was just as sharp. His walk led to the Braves’ only run in the fourth inning on Johnny Estrada’s RBI double.

Andruw Jones led off the second with a triple to left past a diving Floyd for Atlanta’s other hit, but third baseman Wright made a running catch in shallow left field on a weak pop fly hit by Estrada. Martinez struck out Adam LaRoche and ended the threat by getting Brian Jordan on a fly ball.

Randolph made two lineup changes, starting Cairo at second base and Ramon Castro as Martinez’s catcher. Each had two hits.

The manager also let Martinez bat with a runner on in the seventh even though he was trailing, a move that paid off.

Smoltz struck out the side in the second and sixth innings and got at least two strikeouts in each of the first six innings. He posted his 36th career game with 10 or more strikeouts and his first since Oct. 1, 1999, when he fanned 11 Florida batters.

Notes

With his third strikeout, Martinez tied David Cone for 19th on the career list with 2,668. … The only previous time Martinez and Smoltz started against one another was July 24, 1994, when Martinez and Montreal beat the Braves 6-4 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Martinez earned the win but Smoltz was not involved in the decision. … The two last pitched in the same game on June 14, 2002, when Martinez took the 2-1 loss for Boston and Smoltz earned the save.

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