NEW YORK -- If a message is being delivered to the New York Mets, it's banner-sized and shaped like a wild card.
A team that hoped to prove it belongs in the same sentence with the Atlanta Braves is looking more like a comedy in an off-Broadway playhouse.
Friday night's opener of the latest showdown series left 51,979 fans at Shea Stadium hoping umpires would invoke a 10-run rule so the post-game fireworks show could start. Goodness knows they were tired of watching Atlanta's pyrotechnics light up the Queens' sky.
Kicking off a return match against New York's would-be challengers, the Braves boosted their division lead to four games with a show of force, blasting five home runs and receiving multi-RBI performances from Chipper Jones, Ryan Klesko, Eddie Perez and Gerald Williams in a 16-0 pasting that left the Mets wondering if it's too late to shift to the National League Central.
"The hitters had a lot of fun tonight," pitcher Greg Maddux said. "Games like this don't happen very often."
The most lopsided shutout in Atlanta history was over soon after it started. The Braves led 3-0 after one inning, 8-0 after three and 11-0 after five. By the time Jones reached the plate in the fifth, he already had a pair of home runs, four RBI and had scored three runs. Klesko continued his torrid hitting on this trip with a pair of doubles and a home run, giving him eight RBI in five games, and every regular with the exception of Andruw Jones scored at least one run.
"It was nice to have a break-out game," Chipper Jones said. "I haven't had one in awhile. It was a good feeling. Everybody came to play today."
How bad did it all get for the Mets? John Franco couldn't get three outs in the ninth inning and was replaced by third baseman Matt Franco, who yielded a three-run homer to Williams and a triple to Otis Nixon before striking out Andruw Jones to end the inning.
"Maddux was on top of his game, and I guess we were on top of our hitting game," Braves manager Bobby Cox said.
June 27's Maddux-Masato Yoshii matchup in Atlanta was a 1-0 classic won by the Braves. This one was a fiasco, as far as the Mets were concerned. Yoshii (6-7) yielded four hits in the first inning, the same total he allowed in seven innings in the last matchup, including Chipper Jones' 15th homer, his first since June 8, and Andruw Jones' RBI single.
Perhaps the Mets still felt it was a game at that point, even knowing Maddux was 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA in four starts against them since 1997. However, Atlanta's five-run third inning ended any thoughts of a happy ending for New York's faithful.
It quickly became a night to bolster individual stats. Brian Jordan collected his 65th RBI with a single in the third, Klesko's second double was good for another run, then Perez's second three-run homer in his last 10 at-bats upped the lead to 8-0.
It only got worse for the Mets. Chipper Jones' second home run against reliever Pat Mahomes in the fourth gave him the club lead, then Klesko launched a 431-foot homer against Greg McMichael in the sixth.
"They beat the crap out of us in the first game in Atlanta, so we know there's two games left to play," Jones said. "Unless we build upon this victory, the tables could be turned on us."
It was an easy night for Maddux. He worked eight shutout innings June 27 and stepped up his performance Friday, taking a no-hitter into the fifth inning before Luis Lopez's one-out grounder eluded second baseman Bret Boone's dive.
Maddux (8-5) departed after six with his shutout streak against the Mets at 17 innings, a stretch dating to Sept. 27. The win boosted the right-hander's career record against New York to 24-12, his most wins against any N.L. opponent.
"Everyone understands that teams are on both sides of games like this," Maddux said. "Tonight was our turn."