NEW YORK (AP) -- For the Atlanta Braves, the recovery began in
mid-June after they had lost six out of seven.
They were 32-38, in fourth place and drifting along 6˝ games out
of first place in the NL East.
Since then, the Braves have won 20 of 27 and stormed to the top
of the division.
"Are we first?" manager Bobby Cox asked after a 4-3 win over
the New York Mets on Sunday.
As if he didn't know.
They're in first place because they capitalize on opponents'
mistakes, and Sunday was just another example.
The Braves scored three unearned runs against the Mets on
fielding errors by rookies David Wright and Kaz Matsui, and Mike
Hampton continued his pitching renaissance with six strong innings
against the Mets. J.D. Drew hit his 24th homer for the Braves.
"They're in first place for a reason," Mets manager Art Howe
said. "They play the game pretty well. We made a couple of
mistakes and they took advantage of them."
Wright, called up Wednesday from Triple-A Norfolk, made his
second error in four games at third base and the Braves scored
twice in the second against Steve Trachsel (9-7). Matsui's 20th
error in the fifth allowed the Braves to score another run.
Hampton (6-8) won his fourth straight game this month and
limited the Mets -- his former team -- to five hits. He walked two
and struck out two.
"He's winning because he's not giving up as many cheap hits,"
Cox said. "You give up a couple of those. Somebody gets a hit and
it's two runs. You feel you're throwing great, but there are two
runs on the board."
Hampton said he's been better.
"That was not my best, but I battled through it," the
left-hander said. "You try to make good pitches. I missed quite a
few. I didn't have as good stuff."
Jose Reyes had a career-high four hits, three off Hampton, for
the Mets, who have lost three straight and nine of their last 12.
With the Mets trailing 4-2 in the seventh, Mike Cameron led off
with a single off Hampton. Kevin Gryboski came in to relieve him,
and retired the next two batters before walking pinch-hitter Eric
Valent. Reyes followed with an RBI single, but Matsui grounded out
to end the rally.
"I like that, coming in and getting somebody else out of
trouble," Smoltz said.
The Mets took a 1-0 lead in the first when Reyes opened with a
double, moved to third on a groundout and scored on a sacrifice fly
by Cliff Floyd.
Atlanta responded in the top of the second by taking a 2-1 lead.
Adam LaRoche singled and moved up when Wright booted a grounder by
Eddie Perez. Charles Thomas sacrificed the runners and LaRoche
scored on Hampton's groundout. Rafael Furcal followed with an RBI
New York tied it in the third when Jason Phillips drew a leadoff
walk, moved up on a sacrifice and scored on Matsui's single.
Hampton escaped further damage, getting Floyd to pop up and
retiring Richard Hidalgo on a liner to third baseman Chipper Jones.
In the fifth, Drew led off with a walk and Jones ripped a liner
off Matsui's glove for an error. Andruw Jones followed with an RBI
single, giving Atlanta a 3-2 lead.
Trachsel allowed four runs -- one earned -- and seven hits in
"Seven is great," he said. "I'd rather go five and win."
Phillips ran into the dugout, thinking Furcal had struck
out to end the sixth but was called back on the field by plate
umpire Mark Carlson, who ruled the play a foul tip. Three pitches
later, Furcal struck out. ... Drew's homer extended his hitting
streak to 21 games.