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Braves' Ashby Confounds Mets

The second-place New York Mets didn't get the man they wanted to bolster their playoff drive. Then, like rubbing salt in a wound, the first-place Atlanta Braves showed off their prize acquisition.

Andy Ashby, picked up in a trade during the All-Star break to bolster Atlanta's rotation, pitched a four-hitter for his second complete-game victory with the Braves, 1-0 over the Mets on Sunday night.

Atlanta increased its lead in the NL East to six games after taking two of three in the weekend series.

"I could definitely feel the adrenaline, the crowd, the excitement," said Ashby, who was booed out of Philadelphia after struggling for a last-place team. "It was exciting. I want to go to the World Series and win one. That's what you play the game for."

"You can gain ground quickly, you can lose ground quickly," New York's Mike Piazza said. "We could win a few games and be right back in it."

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Game Summary

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  • The Mets won't get back in it with Barry Larkin. They were told before the game that the All-Star shortstop rejected a proposed trade from Cincinnati.

    To make matters worse, while New York was trying to make up ground on the Braves, Larkin signed a stunning three-year contract extension with the Reds.

    Asked his reaction, Mets general manager Steve Phillips replied, "Astonishment." Afterward, most of the players just shrugged off the incredible turn of events.

    "Until the deal was done, we were not counting on it," Piazza said. "That's baseball. You have to move on."

    Ashby (6-7) and the Braves made sure it was a miserable day all around for the Mets, who are 2-18 at Turner Field since September 1997.

    "This was very big" Chipper Jones said. "We definitely don't want to lose a series in our home ballpark, especially to them. We've played well against them here and kept them at arms' length. If we let them win this series, all of a sudden they've got confidence coming in here later in the year."

    Having made a slight tweak in his delivery, Ashby won his fourth straight start, the last two since being acquired by the Braves. He struck out seven and walked two in his eighth career shutout, and first since July 4, 1999, while pitching for the Padres.

    "Andy is very established as a No. 1 or No. 2 pitcher in any rotation," said Wally Joyner, who drove in the game's lone run and played with Ashby in San Diego. "Having him over here brings back some fond memories and a lot of confidence. It's good to have him on the team."

    Ashby pitched a seven-hitter in his Atlanta debut, a 4-1 victory at Baltimore. Then, he benefitted from a rainout at Florida on Wednesday, having surrendered six runs in three innings before the game was called.

    New York's best chance to score came in the fourth inning, when the Mets loaded the bases with one out. But Todd Zeile hit into a 6-4-3 double play to end the threat, which might still have produced a run if Lenny Harris had not been picked off at first after leading off with a single.

    Ashby threw high to first after fielding Jay Payton's dribbler leading off the ninth, the error allowing Payton to reach second. But Ashby escaped the jam by getting Piazza on a grounder to third, and Zeile and Benny Agbayani on grounders to short.

    "We had a couple of shots at Ashby," Mets manager Bobby Valentine said. "He made the error in the ninth, but then made the pitches he had to."

    The Braves scored the only run in the sixth. Brian Jordan led off with a single to right and came all the way around when Joyner followed with a double into the right-field corner against Bobby Jones (4-5).

    Jones allowed seven hits in 5 1-3 innings and benefitted from a brilliant defensive play by right fielder Derek Bell.

    In the fourth, the Braves had two runners on with Mets-killer Jones at the plate. Last year'NL MVP, hitting .367 in his career against New York, sent a towering drive that seemed headed for the seats.

    Instead, Bell made a perfectly timed leap above the fence, snaring the ball for the third out.

    "When I looked up and saw Derek making a stutter step, like he was timing his jump, I got a sinking feeling," Jones said. "I knew what was coming."

    Notes

  • The temperature at the start of the game was 69 degrees, much cooler than the 90-plus readings for the first two games in the series. A line of severe thunderstorms moved through Atlanta a couple of hours before the game, cooling things down, and the game was played with a gentle breeze blowing through the stands.
  • Braves reliever John Rocker, who made a memorable return to New York last month after his inflammatory magazine article, did not pitch in this series.
  • Mets 2B Edgardo Alfonzo missed all three games against the Braves with a sore hip.

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