ATLANTA - Leave it up to Greg Maddux to set things right.
Who better to ask to jump-start the second half than a four-time Cy Young winner? The task before the Braves right-hander Saturday afternoon was simple enough: Pitch deep into the game, keep the bullpen's participation to a minimum, and, oh, yes, limit the New York Mets to two or three runs.
Working in humid conditions, Maddux did just that by offering a typical performance, working seven innings and tying for the league lead in wins as the Braves snapped a three-game skid with a 7-4 victory over the Mets before a 10th straight sellout crowd of 48,091 fans at Turner Field.
"Other than the hanging slider to (Butch) Huskey, I'm not displeased with how I threw," Maddux said. "They hit me, got some runs. But (Ryan) Klesko got the big hit and the bullpen held them. I got lots of help."
After Michael Tucker tied the game in the first inning with a leadoff home run, Klesko sent the Braves in front with a three-run homer, his 15th, against starter Mark Clark (7-6) in the third.
It was only Klesko's fourth homer at Turner Field and his first home run since July 2.
"It's been awhile since I hit," Klesko said. "It's taken me a couple of games to feel comfortable again. Right now my swing is there, but not my pitch selection."
A strategic mistake by Mets manager Bobby Valentine allowed the Braves to tack on an insurance run in the seventh. With two outs Chipper Jones came to the plate with Keith Lockhart on second base. Instead of walking him to face Fred McGriff, the Mets chose to pitch to the Braves' leading RBI man and Jones singled in a run.
"A little miscalculation," Valentine said. "A little miscalculation cost us the game."
Still, Maddux's 12th win wasn't assured until relievers Alan Embree and Mike Bielecki combined to escape the eighth inning with only one run. The Braves followed up by scoring twice in the bottom of the inning on RBI hits by Andruw Jones and Eddie Perez.
Mark Wohlers pitched the ninth for his 21st save, then the Braves cleaned out the bullpen by demoting the three remaining relievers after the game.
"We're trying to get better," Maddux said. "You kind of feel for those guys that got sent down. Hopefully they'll go down and get things worked out."
Maddux (12-3) got off to a staggering start, allowing three runs in the first two innings, including giving up a leadoff triple to Huskey in the second. But he got back on track and cruised through the next five innings, allowing only one hit.
With Maddux's pitch count at 98 after seven innings, the Braves played a dangerous game. They pulled the right-hander and turned to the bullpen, which has been a recipe for disaster lately.
Embree walked the first hitter he faced. Bielecki walked the first hitter he faced. Huskey's single made it 5-4 and when he stole second, the Mets had runners at second and third with two outs.
Making a nice recovery, Bielecki coaxed a comeback grounder from Rey Ordonez and the Braves exhaled a giant sigh of relief.
"I think that was the most important eighth inning you'll see us have all year," Chipper Jones said. "If we hadn't gotten out of it, it would have hurt us."
Not with Maddux around to set things right every five days.
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