NEW YORK -- On a cloudless Saturday afternoon with a hint of October in the air, Rudy Seanez turned Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox's grin into a grimace.
The reliever with the impeccable credentials sent a tremor through the wild-card race and a shiver through the Big Apple with a single pitch that flew out faster than a 747 taking off from LaGuardia.
The result was a second straight loss to the New York Mets, this one by a 5-4 score before 43,573 fans at Shea Stadium, and a deepening September crisis that left at least one player in the visitors clubhouse questioning the team's motivation.
`I'm concerned," third baseman Chipper Jones said. "This is not the way you want to be playing in September. If we don't get our heads out of our butts, we're going to be sitting at home on Oct. 4th or 5th."
The loss was Atlanta's third straight and fifth in six games. More importantly, the Braves arrived here with the intention of severely damaging the Mets' wild card hopes and 48 hours into Operation Knockout, they have produced just the opposite effect on the postseason picture.
"We're helping them stay in it," Jones said.
The win went to former Braves farmhand Turk Wendell (5-1) and John Franco pitched the ninth for his 32nd save.
Following terrific performances by rookies relievers Odalis Perez and John Rocker, Seanez got two quick outs in the eighth, then walked pinch hitter Matt Franco. His 0-1 pitch to leadoff man Tony Phillips was a high fastball and he knocked a 399-foot drive over the right field wall, only his second home run of the season.
"That's what happens when you walk a guy with two outs," Cox said. "You're always going to get burned and we did."
Seanez (4-1) had been virtually unhittable in 21 appearances dating back to July 15, posting three wins and a 1.50 ERA. The home run was the first he had allowed since June 28 and only the second he's allowed all season.
"I wanted to go away with a fastball and I left it up," he said. "Sometimes you can get away with them and sometimes you can't. It's going to happen. I'm going to try and not get too down about it."
Kevin Millwood had a so-so outing, taking a shutout into the fifth and departing under fire the next inning. He allowed seven hits, but thanks to a terrific performance by Perez, he was charged with only two runs.
Perez came on with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth and struck out pinch hitter Todd Pratt, then retired Phillips on a fly to preserve a 4-2 lead.
In the seventh, Perez yielded a single to John Olerud and Dennis Martinez came on and allowed Mike Piazza's hit. Rocker was next and he forced a double-play grounder from Brian McRae, but shortstop Ozzie Guillen's relay throw hit Piazza's hand and the throw bounced away from first baseman Greg Colbrunn. The play was pivotal because it allowed a run to score and the Mets to close to within one run.
"It's the same old thing every day," Jones said. "We're not doing the little things."
Another of the little things happened in the sixth when the Braves scored three runs against starter Bobby Jones. Javy Lopez inched a little closer to the 100-RBI plateau with a run-scoring single and two more runs scored on Colbrunn's double, a drive that Phillips lost momentarily in the sun, then misplayed on the left field warning track.
But the Braves couldn't put the Mets away. With runners on second and third and one out, Tony Graffanino picked up the second of his three strikeouts and Millwood was called out on strikes. In all, the Braves stranded seven runners, six in scoring position.
Millwood was given a 1-0 lead on Andruw Jones' 26th homer in the fifth, a 457 foot drive over the left field stands, but Olerud's two-run homer in the bottom of the inning wiped out the advantage.
Handed a two-run lead in the sixth, Millwood couldn't get three outs. The Mets loaded the bases with one out and the right-hander departed to an eventual no-decision, keeping him winless since Aug. 14.
"All in all it wasn't bad, but it could have been a lot better," Millwood said. "I felt fine, but I made a couple of pitches that should have been in a different spot."
That's a theme that's haunted the Braves for a week.
Atlanta -- 0 0 0 0 1 3 0 0 0 -- 4
New York -- 0 0 0 0 2 0 1 2 x -- 5
LOB -- Atlanta 7, New York 9. 2B -- Colbrunn (10). HR -- AJones (26), Phillips (2), Olerud (19). SB -- ChJones (14), Colbrunn (4).
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