The New York Mets spent the last 10 days insisting that their six games with the Atlanta Braves meant no more than any other games on the schedule. After losing four of the first five, even they knew winning the sixth game was special.
Edgardo Alfonzo hit a three-run homer in the seventh inning as the Mets broke out of their hitting slumber to beat Atlanta 7-6 and salvage the final game of the three-game series.
The Braves had thrown three straight shutouts against the Mets, including one last Sunday in Atlanta, before John Smoltz (8-3) allowed three runs in the first and one in the second.
Smoltz shut down the Mets for the next four innings and took a 6-4 lead into the seventh inning behind two solo homers by Bret Boone.
Rey Ordonez led off the seventh with a single and Brian McRae fought back from an 0-2 count to draw a walk. After a sacrifice bunt, Alfonzo hit a 1-1 pitch over the fence in center field for his 12th homer, giving New York a 7-6 lead.
"The first two pitches he threw were sliders," said Alfonzo, who also had an RBI double in the second. "I was waiting for a good pitch. He finally gave me a fastball and I did something with it."
For the second time in three weeks, Smoltz allowed seven runs in a nationally televised Sunday night game. Smoltz was knocked out after 2 1-3 innings of a 22-1 loss to Baltimore on June 13. He allowed 10 hits in 6 1-3 innings against the Mets.
"I felt as good in the first as I did in the seventh," said Smoltz, who threw 105 pitches on a 94 degree night. "It's a tough one to lose because that was the last guy and I lost the challenge."
New York won despite Orel Hershiser allowing four homers for just the second time in 484 career appearances. He gave up consecutive solo homers to Boone and Chipper Jones in the first, another solo homer to Boone in the third nd a two-run shot by Randall Simon in the third.
Hershiser left after allowing six runs and six hits in 2 2-3 innings. Five relievers combined to pitch 6 1-3 shutout innings and allowed just two hits.
Dennis Cook (7-1) got pinch-hitter Gerald Williams to pop out with the bases loaded in the seventh and pitched a scoreless eighth for the win. Armando Benitez, in his first appearance since closer John Franco went on the disabled list Saturday, struck out the side in the ninth for his fourth save.
"This was just one of those games we try to piece together as a bullpen and hope we can tack on enough runs to win," Cook said. "But if we are going to go deep into the playoffs, we'll need to do better than one out of three against Atlanta."
The Mets spent $163.9 million this offseason to close the gap with the Braves in the NL East. The Mets lost four of the first five games against Atlanta and were close to falling six games back.
Despite losing their second series to Atlanta in 10 days, New York gave the Braves something to think about between now and Sept. 21, when they end the season with six of 12 games against each other.
"It was big for them not to get swept," Atlanta's Ryan Klesko said. "This is going to give them some confidence. It will at least let them keep their heads above water."
The Mets broke their 28-inning scoreless streak against Atlanta with a two-run single by Mike Piazza in the first inning. Piazza was 1-for-11 with no RBIs against the Braves before that.
"It wasn't like we were never going to score," Valentine said. "But to have Mike come through like that was a big lift for our team."
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