Braves 9, Mets 6
NEW YORK (AP)—Kelly Johnson stood in front of his locker, wrapped in just a towel, his eyes bright with excitement.
“That was one of the most exciting ones I’ve seen between the Braves and the Mets,” he said. “It’s only April. And if that’s something to look forward to for the rest of the year, it could be pretty exciting. I have a feeling that we’re going to change hands at the top of the division many more times.”
Johnson homered on Tom Glavine’s first pitch of the game, then hit a tiebreaking, three-run drive off Aaron Heilman in the eighth inning. The first multihomer game of his career sent Atlanta to a 9-6 victory over New York on Sunday, and for the second time in three weekends the Braves took two of three from the Mets.
A sellout crowd of 55,671 came out on a sunny spring afternoon to watch Glavine face John Smoltz, his golfing buddy and former teammate. What was a pitcher’s duel through five innings turned into a battle of bats. Jose Reyes’ three-run triple in the sixth put Glavine and the Mets ahead, but Edgar Renteria erased a 6-3 deficit in the seventh with a three-run homer off Scott Schoeneweis.
Johnson went 3-for-4, making him 13-for-25 (.520) for the week—and that included an 0-for-4 performance Saturday in which he struck out four times against Oliver Perez, an afternoon that left him wondering whether he would be in Sunday’s lineup.
“I was happy to see my name up there, that’s for sure,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t entirely expecting it.”
After three weeks, the first-place Braves (12-6) have a half-game lead in the NL East over the Mets (11-6), who last year ended Atlanta’s run of consecutive division titles at 14.
“I don’t think it’s too early for any kind of signature win,” Smoltz said. “We were going to lose this game. For all the ways they scored in the sixth inning, it just looked like it was too much for us to come back. And for us to come back and win this game was just a tribute to everybody’s effort to not give in and not give up.”
Chipper Jones wouldn’t go that far.
“Smoltzie plays once every fifth day,” he said. “It’s a nice win, don’t get me wrong. A signature win? Possibly. Maybe later on, down the road, you look back and say it was.”
When Reyes tripled, it appeared Glavine was on the way to victory No. 294.
“I don’t know if the sting you feel is shock or disappointment over not winning the game,” Glavine said. “I think anytime you have a game like that, it hurts.”
Glavine allowed three runs and seven hits in six innings, while Smoltz gave up six runs and nine hits in 5 2-3 innings. Their competitiveness showed in the fifth, when Glavine hit a bouncer near the third-base line. Smoltz sprinted off the mound, made a barehanded pickup and an off-balance throw just before crossing into foul territory to retire Glavine at first.
“It’s probably my best play, ever,” Smoltz said.
Glavine shot his friend a look as he walked back to the dugout, muttered to himself, smiled and looked at Smoltz again.
“I was mad at him, that he made it, but I wasn’t surprised,” Glavine said.
Singles by Carlos Delgado and Moises Alou and a one-out walk to Green loaded the bases in the bottom half. Atlanta manager Bobby Cox was ejected for arguing ball four to Green. It was Cox’s 127th ejection, four behind John McGraw’s record, according to the Braves.
But with two outs and none on in the bottom half, pinch-hitter Scott Thorman hit a catchable drive to right against Ambiorix Burgos that Green jumped for and allowed to tick off his glove for a double.
“It’s frustrating, a play that you know you’re capable of making and have it go off the glove and come back to haunt the team,” Green said.
Scott Schoeneweis walked Johnson and allowed Renteria’s homer.
“You could just see kind of the air being sucked out a little bit from the Mets,” Smoltz said.
Francoeur began the eighth with a soft liner off the end of his bat that handcuffed Valentin. The second baseman let it fall, and it spun past him for an error that would make all the runs in the inning unearned.
Heilman (1-2) hit Craig Wilson with a pitch, and Johnson homered into the right-field bullpen with two outs.
Ex-Met Tyler Yates (1-0) pitched a perfect seventh, Rafael Soriano retired Lo Duca with two on to end the eighth and Bob Wickman retired Green on a grounder with two in the ninth for his sixth save in six chances.
“These are the games you’re probably going to need late in the year,” Valentin said. “You can’t afford to lose games like that.”
Mets 3B David Wright was 0-for-4 with two called strikeouts and is hitless in 12 at-bats following a 26-game hitting streak that dated to last year. … Atlanta’s Brian McCann was hit on his left ring finger and pinkie while trying to bunt against Pedro Feliciano in the ninth. X-rays were negative.