Mets 6, Braves 5

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NEW YORK (AP)—Don’t panic over the state of the Atlanta Braves. They’re not.

The Braves lost their fourth straight game Saturday, beaten 6-5 by the New York Mets and dropped to 12-18, nine games behind the Mets. Atlanta, winner of 14 straight division titles, hasn’t been this far out of first place since Aug. 11, 1993.

The Braves seem a tad concerned but not exactly terrified. Maybe that’s because they ended the season in first the last time they were this far back.

“Nobody in here is going to panic,” Chipper Jones said. “We’re going to show up for work tomorrow, play hard and see how we stand after 27 outs. There’s a lot of baseball left to play.”

John Smoltz, who will start Sunday, said it’s not as if his team isn’t trying.

“It’s not a matter of effort,” he said. “It’s a matter of finding a way to win some of these games. Everybody realizes the importance of getting ourselves going. It’s just not working right now. We need to start winning.”

Saturday’s loss was similar to Friday night’s 14-inning setback with the Mets coming from behind late to overtake Atlanta.

“Both games, we had the lead in the seventh inning and managed not to win the game,” manager Bobby Cox said. “We didn’t make a couple of pitches. We didn’t make a couple of plays. We’ve had a lot of leads and managed to lose ballgames.”

The difference Saturday was a four-run Mets rally in the seventh punctuated by run-scoring hits by Jose Reyes and Kaz Matsui as New York won its fourth straight.

The Mets, who wiped out a four-run Atlanta lead with a seventh-inning rally Friday night, were trailing 3-2 after Adam LaRoche homered for Atlanta in the top of the seventh.

Xavier Nady opened the bottom half with a single against Tim Hudson (2-3) and after Ramon Castro struck out, pinch-hitter Jose Valentin also singled. Reyes, who had five hits Friday night and went 3-for-5 Saturday, delivered an RBI single to tie it. Reyes took second when the throw to third got away from Jones.

Matsui followed with a two-run double into right field. Carlos Beltran, who homered for the second straight day, was walked intentionally and then walks to David Wright and Cliff Floyd forced in another run.

The Braves scored in the eighth on a two-out RBI single by Brian Jordan but Pedro Feliciano struck out LaRoche, leaving the tying runs stranded.

LaRoche’s fifth home run of the season gave Atlanta the lead in the top of the seventh. He connected against reliever Bartolome Fortunato (1-0), who was recalled from the minors earlier in the day.

Jorge Julio gave up a one-out RBI single to pinch-hitter Matt Diaz in the ninth before retiring the last two hitters for his first save since 1994. With runners on first and third, Julio shattered Edgar Renteria’s bat on a groundout to shortstop to end it.

Fortunato had come into the game in the sixth inning after Atlanta tied it at 2 on a double by Renteria and an RBI single by Jones. The run chased Darren Oliver, who relieved Mets starter Victor Zambrano after just four batters when Zambrano experienced discomfort in his right elbow.

“I kind of knew that might happen,” Oliver said of Zambrano’s sudden exit. “I knew to be ready. We talked a couple of days ago. I didn’t know how serious it was.”

Zambrano kept his problem private. Manager Willie Randolph said he was unaware of the problem and his starter struck out two of the first three batters he faced. While working to Andruw Jones, he looked uncomfortable, prompting Randolph, trainers and catcher Ramon Castro to come to the mound.

“He said he was OK,” Castro said. “He was throwing good. He said, `I’m OK, let’s go.”’

Zambrano struck out Jones and then sprinted off the mound straight through the dugout and into the clubhouse. He had an MRI after the game.

The Mets scored first when Reyes opened the first with a double, moved to third on an infield out and scored on an RBI single by Carlos Delgado.

After Oliver relieved Zambrano, he retired one batter and then gave up a first-pitch home run to Jeff Francoeur to tie it at 1. It was Francoeur’s fifth homer of the season.

Beltran put the Mets back in front in the third with his seventh home run of the season.

Notes

Braves 2B Marcus Giles made back-to-back sparkling defensive plays, retiring Cliff Floyd to end the first inning and Xavier Nady leading off the second. … Braves LF Ryan Langerhans saved a hit with a diving catch on a drive by Ramon Castro in the fourth. … Oliver struck out six in four innings. … Renteria’s sixth-inning double extended his hitting streak to 21 games, tying his career high set in 1996.

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