Braves pick up rare close win on road against Santana, Mets

NEW YORK -- The Mets let one slip away Saturday, and nobody needs to tell them they can't afford to make a habit of that the way they did last September.

Jeff Francoeur hit a tying single in the eighth inning and the Atlanta Braves rallied against Johan Santana and the Mets' bullpen, beating New York 3-2 in the opener of a doubleheader for their first one-run road win in more than a year.

Atlanta handed the Mets their eighth loss in 28 games, cutting their NL East lead to two games over Philadelphia. New York is still three up in the loss column after the Phillies beat Milwaukee 7-3.

Last year, the Mets had a seven-game cushion before going 5-12 down the stretch and letting Philadelphia charge past them for the division crown. New York entered Saturday with 17 games remaining over the final 16 days of the season.

"It is something we'll have to deal with as long as we are where we are," manager Jerry Manuel said. "Because of what happened last year, we just have to deal with it. We have to answer the questions daily, but that's OK."

Omar Infante's sacrifice fly put the Braves up 3-2, capping a three-run eighth. Atlanta has won four straight and six of eight.

Mike Gonzalez closed it out with a perfect ninth and the Braves won a one-run game away from home for the first time since a 7-6 victory on Aug. 9, 2007, also at Shea Stadium.

Atlanta had lost 22 such games in a row this season and 29 overall -- the longest streak of its kind in major league history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"We enjoyed it. There was a lot of excitement in that dugout, in that locker room, when you win a game like that," Kelly Johnson said. "Even in there we are like, let's get another one. Let's make it hard on these guys. Maybe they collapse again."

After ex-Met Mike Hampton kept the Braves close, Jeff Ridgway (1-0) worked a scoreless seventh to win his first career decision. Gonzalez gave a big fist pump after earning his 10th save in 11 chances.

Scott Schoeneweis (2-4) took the loss, allowing a single to his only batter.

"Even though we're in first place, it's not over yet," Santana said. "We still have a long way to go. We have to protect our lead. We have to play better baseball. We have to do the little things."

Jonathon Niese made his second major league start for the Mets in the nightcap, a makeup of Friday night's rainout. Jo-Jo Reyes started for Atlanta.

It was New York's second doubleheader in seven days and sixth this season, its most since playing eight in 1998.

Santana struggled with his command early but kept Atlanta off the scoreboard and carried a 2-0 lead into the eighth.

Consecutive singles by Brian McCann and Yunel Escobar to start the inning chased Santana, 6-0 in 14 starts since his last loss June 28 against the Yankees. He left to a warm ovation and tipped his cap to the crowd.

Once again, New York's shaky bullpen couldn't hold a lead for the lefty ace. Schoeneweis gave up a single to Casey Kotchman that loaded the bases, and Francoeur grounded Brian Stokes' first pitch through the middle for a two-run single.

Josh Anderson sacrificed, pinch-hitter Greg Norton was intentionally walked and Infante gave Atlanta the lead with a sacrifice fly to left.

It was the seventh time in 31 starts with the Mets that Santana left with a chance to win only to have the bullpen blow it. Five of those collapses have come in the ninth inning.

"He did his job, did what he was supposed to do. We didn't take advantage of it," Manuel said.

Braves relievers Will Ohman and Jeff Bennett combined for a 1-2-3 eighth.

The Mets loaded the bases with none out in the fourth on two singles and a walk. Damion Easley hit an RBI single and another run scored when Brian Schneider grounded into a double play.

New York had a great chance to expand the lead in the sixth after loading the bases with none out again. This time, Hampton escaped unscathed.

The 2000 NL championship series MVP for the Mets, Hampton got Easley to ground into a 5-2-3 double play. Schneider was intentionally walked before Santana struck out.

"We didn't actually play a bad game," Manuel said. "We didn't execute when we could have put the game away."

Hampton was booed all afternoon. He jilted the Mets after their 2000 World Series run, leaving for a $121 million, eight-year contract with Colorado that expires this season.

"I hold a lot of great memories about this place," Hampton said.

Game notes
The Mets are 5-8 against Atlanta this year. ... Francoeur has a major league-high 33 plate appearances with the bases loaded this year. He improved to 5-for-32 (.156) with a walk. ... Nursing a stiff back, Atlanta 3B Chipper Jones expected to miss both games of the doubleheader. He hopes to return to the lineup Sunday for his final chance to play at Shea Stadium, one of his favorite ballparks.