Series: Game 2 of 3

Atlanta leads 2-0 (as of 6/5)

Game 1: Monday, June 3
New York 4Final
Atlanta 5
Game 2: Tuesday, June 4
New York Postponed
Game 2: Wednesday, June 5
New York 4Final
Atlanta 6
Game 3: Thursday, June 6
New York 2Final
Atlanta 3

Mets 4

(29-29, 15-16 away)

Braves 6

(33-26, 18-13 home)

    7:05 PM ET, June 5, 2002

    Turner Field, Atlanta, Georgia 

    123456789 R H E
    NYM 000120010 4 - -
    ATL 00022002 - 6 - -

    W: C. Hammond (3-2)

    L: S. Strickland (5-3)

    S: J. Smoltz (16)

    Braves widen gap in NL East race

    ATLANTA (AP) -- Henry Blanco doesn't get many hits. Even so, he's becoming the guy the Braves want at the plate in clutch situations.

    The backup catcher hit a two-out, two-run homer in the eighth inning for his third game-winning hit of the season, leading the streaking Atlanta Braves to a 6-4 victory over the New York Mets on Wednesday night.

    "When you look up and see his average on the board, it's not indicative of how good a hitter he is,'' Chipper Jones said. "He turned around a pretty good fastball that was down in the strike zone.''

    Blanco came up in the eighth batting .183. But he has a way of coming up with big hits -- his other homer was a 10th-inning drive that won a game at Milwaukee.

    He also drove in the winning run against Arizona on April 24 with an eighth-inning single.

    "You don't expect it to happen,'' Blanco said. "But it feels good to help the team win some games.''

    The Mets tied it at 4 in the top half of the eighth, then Scott Strickland (5-3) retired the first two hitters in the bottom half.

    Keith Lockhart singled and Blanco hit the next pitch, a low fastball, over the 400-foot sign in straightaway center for his second homer of the season.

    "They had been throwing me the fastball in, so I went up there looking for a fastball,'' Blanco said. "I got it.''

    Strickland started the inning by striking out Andruw Jones and Vinny Castilla, who figured to be the main threats. Lockhart was batting just .148 and Blanco wasn't much better.

    "I was trying to throw a sinking ball (to Blanco), the way I did against Andruw Jones and Castilla,'' Strickland said. "I yanked it a little bit, but it was still down. You usually don't get hurt when it's down.''

    Julio Franco drove in two runs and scored another for the Braves, who have built a three-game lead in the NL East by winning eight of 10 in pursuit of their 11th straight division title.

    The Mets lost their fourth in a row and dropped into third place, a half-game behind Florida and 3½ behind the Braves.

    "It's just not happening for us right now,'' manager Bobby Valentine said. "Things will start spinning in our direction.''

    Atlanta starter Greg Maddux, going for his fifth win in a row, gave up three runs in six innings. He was lifted after throwing just 79 pitches on a sweltering night.

    The Braves felt confident turning the game over to a bullpen that led the majors with a 2.61 ERA. But Kevin Gryboski walked Mo Vaughn with the bases loaded in the eighth, tying it at 4.

    The bases were still loaded with no outs, but New York couldn't push across the go-ahead run. Jeromy Burnitz popped out to third against Gryboski, then Chris Hammond (3-2) struck out pinch-hitter John Valentin and retired Rey Ordonez on a grounder.

    Hammond, who made it back to the majors this season after retiring from baseball for 2½ years, picked up his second win in three days.

    "That was the first time in a long time that I've experienced chills and goose bumps out on the mound,'' he said. "I'll remember this feeling for the rest of the year.''

    John Smoltz pitched a perfect ninth for his 16th save.

    "Our bullpen actually came through again,'' manager Bobby Cox said. "Yeah, we gave up one run, but you can't be perfect every night.''

    Pedro Astacio went six innings for the Mets, taking his fourth straight no-decision. He remained 4-13 for his career against the Braves.

    The Mets broke up a scoreless game in the fourth but could have scored more. After giving up three straight singles to load the bases, Maddux struck out Vaughn on a cut fastball over the inside corner, surrendered a sacrifice fly to Burnitz and struck out Roger Cedeno swinging.

    Overall, New York left seven runners on base.

    The Braves got to Astacio in their half of the fourth. Franco led off with a single, Chipper Jones added a one-out hit and Andruw Jones cleared the bases with a double to the wall in left-center.

    New York went back ahead in the fifth on Timo Perez's second homer of the season, a drive that barely cleared the wall in right to bring home two runs.

    Atlanta put up two more runs in the fifth, taking advantage of a throwing error by Ordonez that allowed Blanco to reach base. Maddux failed to convert a sacrifice bunt, but Rafael Furcal followed with a ground-rule double -- the ball hopped over the wall in left-center -- and Franco went the other way for a double that brought home the go-ahead runs.

    Game notes

    Burnitz flung his bat into the crowd for the second time in three nights. A small child was slightly injured on Monday, but no one was hurt when Burnitz lost his grip fouling off a pitch in the sixth inning. Both times, the bat flew into the seats next to the Braves dugout. ... Maddux had not gotten past the first inning the last two times he faced the Mets. Last September, he gave up two straight singles leading off the game and left with a hyperextended right elbow. On April 17, he made it through the first but couldn't go on because of a sore back. ... Maddux tied a season high with six strikeouts.

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press