ATLANTA -- The kindest thing to say is the New York Mets blinked first in Round 1 of a scheduled six-round fight between a pair of NL East heavyweights.
In conditions that resembled October in more ways than one Tuesday night, the Braves replayed last September's bitter ending for the Mets, causing the Gang from Gotham to wonder whetherthey're ever going to win another game at Turner Field.
The Braves, playing their first meaningful regular-season game in six years, gave a hint of coming attractions and strengthened the Mets' wild-card bid by taking a 2-1 victory in the opener of a showdown series before 43,948 bundled-up fans.
"That was a great ballgame," manager Bobby Cox said. "If fans didn't like that one, then they don't like National League baseball. It had the playoff flavor with the weather and the packed crowd."
The night, and perhaps the season, belonged to Chipper Jones. The third baseman, whose bid for MVP honors is strengthening from tropical storm status to a full-fledged hurricane, accounted for both runs by homering from both sides of the plate (Nos. 42 and 43) and reached 100 RBI in a fourth straight season.
"It was really important to come out and get some momentum," said Jones, who has six two-homer games this season. "We've got them down, but I don't think they're going to lay down the next two days. This is far from over."
The win, the Braves' ninth in 10 games against the Mets at Turner Field since the start of last season, brought them a two-game lead and assured they will sit atop the division by the end of Thursday afternoon's game.
"We're not going to slit our wrists over one game," said Mets reliever Dennis Cook, who yielded Jones' game-winning homer. "We've still got five more with these guys."
In a game that should have been played during next month's playoffs, John Smoltz showed again why he's the Braves' version of Mr. October. He wasn't at his best, but he hung in for seven innings and allowed only Edgardo Alfonzo's RBI single in the third, while striking out six.
He faced his biggest challenge in the seventh when pinch hitter Bobby Bonilla's two-out double put runners on second and third and brought Rickey Henderson to the plate. After a discussion with pitching coach Leo Mazzone, he worked the count full, then struck out Henderson with a high fastball.
"These are the games I love to pitch in," Smoltz said. "They seem to bring the best out in me."
Mike Remlinger (10-1) worked a 1-2-3 eighth, then John Rocker struck out the side in the ninth for his 34th save.
Jones, who had never homered from both sides of the plate before this season, now has done it three times. He jacked Rick Reed's 2-1 pitch in the first inning over the right field wall, his seventh home run this month, only four fewer than he's hit in four previous Septembers combined.
In the eighth, having seen enough of Jones from the left side, the Mets called in Cook, forcing Jones to hit right-handed. It was the wrong decision. Cook's third pitch went sailing into the left field stands and Jones fell into the excited embraces of his teammates.
"I'm kind of surprised they turned me around, but Dennis Cook's bread and butter is coming in and getting outs and getting his team to the ninth inning," Jones said. "You figure at some point during the count he's going to throw a fastball and you don't want to miss it."
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