NEW YORK (AP)—For Pedro Martinez, the assignment Friday night was simple. All he had to do was lift the gloom and doom that was surrounding the New York Mets after 12 losses in 14 games this month and 15 in their last 18 games.
“It was just a regular game,” Martinez said, a mischievous grin creeping across his face. “I wanted to change the atmosphere around here. Give the fans something positive. It was in my hands to do it. I wanted to do it.”
So Martinez (15-7) took a four-hitter into the ninth inning, got himself into an ugly first and third, none-out jam, then struck out Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones and left the bases loaded when Jeff Francoeur flied out to end the game.
The ninth-inning strikeouts of the two most dangerous hitters in the Atlanta lineup gave Martinez 10 for the game and moved him ahead of Hall of Famer Jim Bunning into 14th place on the career list with 2,860.
All season long, Martinez has injected electricity into his starts and Friday was no different. The fans were roaring in the ninth as he wiggled out of the jam with an assortment of pitches thrown at an assortment of speeds.
Chipper Jones described the hitters’ dilemma against Martinez’s arsenal.
“When you have so many pitches that you have to cover, when you have to cover five inches off the plate, that’s a lot,” he said.
Martinez threw a season-high 122 pitches. After seeing the bullpen blow so many of his games this season, he was not coming out.
“My way of doing things, I am a professional,” he said. “When the manager hands me the ball, I go out and do whatever possible to win the game. They asked me how I feel and I said I’m going for it. It was a complete game, a good game, everything I wanted. We all needed it.”
Asked if matching up with Smoltz, the Braves’ ace, gave him a little extra incentive, Martinez shook his head.
“No, I wish they had their worst guy out there,” he said. “It didn’t happen that way.”
Rookie Mike Jacobs gave the Mets a quick lead against Smoltz (14-7) in the second inning when he hit his fifth home run after David Wright singled. It was Jacobs’ first homer since Aug. 24, when he completed a stretch of four home runs in his first four days in the major leagues.
The Braves’ best chances before the ninth came in the first and sixth innings, when they left runners on third base.
In the first, Giles doubled with one out, moved to third on a fly ball but was stranded when Andruw Jones flied out.
Furcal beat out an infield single in the sixth and Giles followed with a single to left. But Giles was thrown out by left fielder Cliff Floyd trying to stretch his hit into a double. It was Floyd’s 12th assist of the season.
Martinez then retired Chipper Jones on a grounder, ending the inning.
The loss was the fifth in the last seven games for the Braves, leaders in the National League East.
“We had a couple of chances, especially in the ninth,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “Pedro is a master out there. He really is. He’s one of the great pitchers to come along.”
Braves LF Ryan Langerhans recorded the first four outs, all on fly balls hit to the opposite field by left-handed Mets batters. … Jacobs’ second-inning homer traveled an estimated 440 feet to straightaway center field. … Martinez’s third-inning strikeout of Smoltz was his 200th strikeout of the season, the first Mets pitcher to reach that total since Al Leiter in 2000. … Braves 1B LaRoche struck out three times. … Martinez evened his season record against Smoltz at 2-2. He beat Smoltz on April 10, the Mets first victory of the season. Smoltz won showdowns on April 26 and Sept. 6. … Martinez now has nine seasons of 200 or more strikeouts.