If the New York Mets were casting ballots, Chipper Jones would probably be a unanimous MVP.
Almost single-handedly, the Atlanta third baseman powered a sweep of the Mets, homering four times in three games to turn the NL East showdown into a rout.
Jones finished off his remarkable hitting display Thursday with a three-run shot in the Braves' 6-3 victory.
"There's still some games left, but he's the MVP right now," Greg Maddux said. "Look at what that guy has done down the stretch. To me, that carries more weight than the first three months of the season."
"They sure did the job they needed to give themselves some room. At least Chipper did," Mets manager Bobby Valentine said. "It's uncanny that he's so hot right now."
Jones hit a pair of solo homers Tuesday night, accounting for both Atlanta runs in a 2-1 victory, and added a two-run shot in Wednesday's 5-2 victory.
In the final game of the series, the Braves trailed 2-1 in the fifth inning when Jones batted with two runners aboard and one out. On a 1-0 pitch, Mets starter Al Leiter tried to sneak a cut fastball over the outside corner, but Jones sent it over the center-field wall for his 45th homer of the season.
"It was one of those dream series," Jones said. "It's almost like the ball is hitting my bat. I don't think I'm doing anything different, but it seems like the ball keeps hitting my sweet spot."
Jones, who already set an NL mark for most homers by a switch-hitter, has the most homers by a Braves player since Hank Aaron hit 47 in 1971. That is also the francise record, set originally by Eddie Mathews in 1953.
"Chipper really did dominate these three games," manager Bobby Cox said. "I guess McGwire and Sosa do that on occasion. But it was great to see Chipper come through. I would think that has to add to his MVP votes."
Jones has seven homers and 14 RBIs in 29 at-bats against the Mets this season. He is hitting .448 (13-for-29), helping the Braves win seven of the nine meetings.
"I don't think they can beat us," New York's Rickey Henderson said defiantly. "But they seem to win the ballgames."
The teams have three more games next week at Shea Stadium, but that series could wind up being meaningless in the division race.
"Hopefully, they're over there saying, `We can't beat those guys. We can't beat those guys,"' Atlanta's Brian Jordan said.
The Mets can't help but be haunted by memories of their collapse a year ago. New York lost its final five games, when only one victory would have put them in a playoff for the NL wild card, and three of those losses came in the season-ending series at Turner Field.
Cincinnati, which was off Thursday, trails the Mets by only two games in the wild-card race.
Maddux (19-8) pitched seven innings, allowing seven hits and all three New York runs, to break a two-game losing streak and move with one victory of his first 20-win season since 1993.
John Rocker pitched the ninth for his 36th save, including all three games of the series. He made it interesting, throwing 10 straight balls and walking two, before striking out Benny Agbayani and retiring Edgardo Alfonzo on a fly ball to end it.
Leiter (11-12) surrendered 11 hits and five runs in five innings.
The Mets, the best-fielding team in the majors, made two costly throwing errors, both allowing runs to score.
After John Olerud caught a popup in the fifth, Andruw Jones tagged at second and attempted to move up a base. Olerud's throw skipped by Robin Ventura, and Jones trotted home when Leiter failed to back up third.
In the seventh, with runners at first and third and one out, reliever Turk Wendell fielded a double-play grounder back to the mound, only to throw the ball into center field. While Wendel pounded his glove in frustration, Bret Boone trotted across home to give the Braves their final run.
New York gave away another run in the fifth. Rickey Henderson was thrown out at home when he ran through a stop sign at third on Alfonzo's double into the left-field corner.
Henderson, who tried to score from first, seemed to running at half-speed around the bases. He left the game after that play with what the team reported as a tight right hamstring.
"Stop sign?" Henderson said. "No, I look at the ball. I thought (left fielder Gerald Williams) had bobbled it."
Both teams wasted scoring opportunities in the early innings.
After the Braves tied the game at 1 on Andruw Jones' run-scoring single in the first, Brian Hunter hit into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded.
In the second, Rey Ordonez put New York ahead 2-1 with an RBI single and the Mets still had the bases loaded with no outs. But Leiter struck out, Henderson forced a runner at the plate with a grounder to Maddux, and Alfonzo lined out to second.
The Braves put together three hits in the fourth but failed to score because Andruw Jones was thrown out trying to steal third.
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