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Lockhart's late HR extends Braves' NL East lead

NEW YORK (AP) -- Something in the New York Mets always seems to
bring out the best in the Atlanta Braves.

Pinch-hitter Keith Lockhart lined a leadoff home run in the
ninth inning and the Braves defeated the Mets 3-2 Monday night for
their sixth straight victory.

"It's nice to beat these guys, no matter how you do it,''
Lockhart said. "It's a great place to win. Even if you're both 10
games out, it's always a big series.''

The first-place Braves beat their NL East rivals for the fifth
straight time. Atlanta improved to 17-4 in June behind a solid
effort from starter Kevin Millwood and the majors' best bullpen.

The Mets began a big week -- four games against the Braves and
three against the Yankees -- by dropping 8 1/2 games behind Atlanta.

"It's pretty much the obvious,'' said Mets star Mike Piazza,
hitless in four at-bats. "We put ourselves in a tough position and
we have to try to battle back. It's frustrating. We have to try to
put this one behind us.''

Lockhart was only 2-for-28 as a pinch-hitter this season when he
batted for Jesse Garcia. Lockhart fell behind 0-2 against Scott
Strickland (6-4) but came back on the eighth pitch of the at-bat
for his fifth career pinch-homer.
"It's not as easy as we think it is,'' Atlanta manager Bobby
Cox said. "You're always facing the best pitcher in the bullpen.''
Lockhart quickly circled the bases after his drive to right
field while Strickland stayed in a prolonged crouch on the mound.
"I wanted to get him out before it got to 3-2. I made some good
pitches and he fouled them off,'' Strickland said. "He did his job
and I didn't do mine.''
Mike Remlinger got three outs in the seventh, Kevin Gryboski
(2-1) worked a scoreless eighth and John Smoltz pitched a perfect
ninth for his 24th save in 27 chances.
The Mets had won six of eight overall, but dropped to 4-6
against Atlanta this season.
Jeromy Burnitz opened the Mets seventh with his first home run
in a month, tying it at 2. He connected on the first pitch from
Millwood, late getting to the mound after running the bases in the
top half on a humid, 87-degree night.
"He was spent that inning on the bases,'' Cox said.
Millwood retired the first 12 batters and didn't give up a hit
until Roger Cedeno's one-out single in the fifth.
Millwood helped himself early with a nifty, behind-the-back stab
on Rey Ordonez's grounder in the third inning. Millwood got Ordonez
to ground into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded
in the fifth.
"Kevin was absolutely dynamite,'' Cox said. "That's his old
form. He's really tough right now.''
Julio Franco once again caused problems for Mets starter Al
Leiter with a home run, single and walk. Franco has reached base in
14 of 19 lifetime plate appearances against the left-hander.
Franco, the second batter of the game, hit a high fly that
carried beyond the leap of center fielder Timo Perez.
Franco's third home run of the season was the Braves' only hit
until he flared a single in the sixth and stole second.
Gary Sheffield followed with a hard grounder that deflected off
the pitcher's mound and changed direction as it headed up the
middle. Second baseman Roberto Alomar was in position to field the
ball, but it bounced off the bag before it reached him and caromed
into short right-center.
Franco hustled home ahead of Alomar's off-balance throw.
In Franco's next two at-bats, he grounded into double plays
against a pair of Mets relievers.
The Mets broke through in the sixth when Mo Vaughn blooped an
RBI single with two outs.

Game notes
Burnitz had gone 80 at-bats without a homer before hitting
his ninth of the season. ... Cox and a trainer came out to check on
Chipper Jones before he batted in the sixth. Jones had been
accidentally spiked by Leiter while backing up the play on Franco's
RBI single. Jones stayed in the game. ... The Mets are 19-12 in
one-run games, still the most victories in the majors in one-run
decisions. Atlanta is 15-10. ... Jay Payton was hit in the left
hand by pitch from Remlinger. Payton had X-rays, which were
negative.