Series: Game 1 of 3

Atlanta leads 1-0 (as of 6/24)

Game 1: Monday, June 24
Atlanta 3Final
New York 2
Game 2: Tuesday, June 25
Atlanta 4Final
New York 7
Game 3: Wednesday, June 26
Atlanta 6Final
New York 3
Game 4: Thursday, June 27
Atlanta Postponed
New York

Braves 3

(47-29, 21-14 away)

Mets 2

(38-37, 20-17 home)

    7:10 PM ET, June 24, 2002

    Shea Stadium, Flushing, New York 

    123456789 R H E
    ATL 100001001 3 - -
    NYM 000001100 2 - -

    W: K. Gryboski (2-1)

    L: S. Strickland (6-4)

    S: J. Smoltz (24)

    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.

    Atlanta's Julio Franco is greeted at the plate by Gary Sheffield after Franco's solo home run in the first.

    "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.

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press