The Mets are playing their best baseball heading into their biggest series of the season.
New York won its seventh straight game, as Mark Johnson's two-run single capped a five-run sixth inning in the Mets' 6-5 win over the Florida Marlins on Wednesday night.
New York remained two games behind Atlanta in the NL East, with a four-game showdown with John Rocker and the Braves beginning Thursday at Shea Stadium. Atlanta beat Montreal 7-4.
"It won't make or break our season," said Mets reliever John Franco, who pitched the ninth for his third save. "But it's a big series. Anyone who doesn't say that is lying. I just hope people will focus on the games going on, not the circus."
Rocker, who disparaged New York's diversity in a magazine interview in December, was also a key player for the Braves when they eliminated the Mets 4-2 in a thrilling NLCS last October.
"We're tired of talking about it," New York's Robin Ventura said. "We just want to play."
For the first five innings, it looked like New York would be entering the series with a loss. But trailing 4-1, the Mets rallied despite getting just two hits.
Brad Penny (4-7) pitched through trouble in the first five innings, allowing at least one baserunner an inning and getting out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fourth.
"I tried to strike him out and I tried to overpower him," Penny said. "That's how we lost the game."
Kurt Abbott followed with a single and pinch-hitter Ventura walked. Melvin Mora then drew a bases-loaded walk to cut the lead to 4-2 and finish Penny. Ricky Bones came on and walked Derek Bell, who just held up his swing on a 3-2 pitch. Mike Piazza then reached on an error by shortstop Andy Fox, allowing pinch-runner Mike Hampton to score the tying run.
Johnson, a late addition to the lineup when Ventura was scratched with a sore right shoulder, then lined a single to left, giving New York a 6-4 lead.
"It was a great situation to hit in," Johnson said. "The bases were loaded and the guys in front of me gave me a lot of pitches to see."
It was the Mets' only hit in 14 chances with runners in scoring position.
"You know that saying that you learn more from defeats than victories," manager John Boles said. "Then we're going to become Einsteins. We're going to be rocket scientists. We're going to find a cure for cancer. It's a shame you have to lose a game like this for some of those lessons to sink in."
Bobby J. Jones (3-3), in his second start back from a minor league stint, reverted to his ineffective form from the first two months of the season but ended up with the win.
Piazza set a Mets' record by driving in a run in his 11th straight game. Piazza's RBI groundout in the third scored Mora, breaking the record he set last August.
Luis Castillo had a rare RBI single, giving the Marlins a 4-1 lead in the fifth. Castillo, hitting .357, has four RBIs in 227 at-bats. Preston Wilson added an RBI single in the seventh to make it 6-5.
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