Originally created 09/19/00

Braves hold off Mets rally



ATLANTA -- Greg Maddux went to the mound Monday night in a New York state of mind.

Actually, going to work provided a diversion, if not a respite, from all the pregame hype surrounding the latest showdown series against the second-place Mets.

Maddux continued his late bid for a fifth Cy Young Award in the Braves' 6-3 win over the Mets, upping his shutout streak to 29 1/3 consecutive innings as Atlanta moved four games ahead in the NL East and reduced its magic number to nine.

"It was a big game for us," said Maddux, who improved to 18-8 and lowered his earned run average to 3.00. "It gets us off on the right foot. If we can squeak out one or two more, we'll be in good shape."

Pity the poor Mets. When it comes to applying heat to the Braves, they're not even equipped with a foot warmer. The loss kept the Mets winless in September games in Atlanta since 1996 and they're 2-19 in their last 21 games at Turner Field, including three losses in last year's NLCS.

"They always seem to get tough here," Mets second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo said. "We have to feel like we can compete, but every time we come here, this is like the playoffs for them."

Understand, the Mets were no more successful at figuring out Maddux than the Diamondbacks or Marlins, shutout victims in the 34-year-old right-hander's previous two starts. Displaying his usual command of the strike zone, Maddux threw 83 pitches, 58 for strikes, and allowed just five hits in seven innings. He didn't walk a batter in a third straight start, upping his streak to 30 2/3 innings without a walk.

Winners of nine of their last 13 games, the Braves parlayed six hits against Mets starter Mike Hampton into five runs, then survived another bullpen meltdown as relievers Kerry Ligtenberg and Mike Remlinger allowed New York back into the game during a three-run eighth.

John Rocker entered with runners on first and second and two out and induced an inning-ending pop fly from pinch hitter Bubba Trammell, then worked the ninth for his 23rd save. The save was the bullpen's 52rd this season, breaking the 1982 franchise record.

"There's a little more intensity involved," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "There's a little chill in the air that brought out a playoff atmosphere. With the exception of the little hiccup in the eighth, I thought we played as perfect a game as we've played all year."

Hampton, who has won just one start since Aug. 12, was punished for his mistakes. In the second, Andres Galarraga lashed a 3 and 0 delivery over the head of right fielder Derek Bell for a double and Walt Weiss delivered him with a suicide-squeeze bunt.

Rafael Furcal drew a walk from Hampton (13-10) to start the bottom of the third, took second on Andruw Jones' single and scored on Chipper Jones' base hit. Brian Jordan followed with another run-scoring single, then Weiss' infield out sent Chipper Jones across the plate.

Galarraga, who had struck out 15 times in his last nine games and had only five RBI this month, followed a fifth-inning walk to Jordan with his second double to make it 5-0.

Jordan, who had not homered since Aug. 23, took reliever Pat Mahomes deep in the seventh, launching a 415-foot souvenir into the left-center field stands.

"To go out and beat a guy like Mike Hampton is a big boost to our confidence," Chipper Jones said. "It's not easy to do against him and we threw some pretty good at-bats at him."

The Mets' best chance to score against Maddux came in the fourth when Bell singled and stole second. But, Maddux retired the heart of New York's order in succession, setting down Alfonzo (fly to right), Mike Piazza (infield out) and Robin Ventura (pop to third).

"My good pitches are being hit at people and my mistakes are being fouled off," said Maddux, explaining his shutout streak. "It's flat-out luck, that's how you explain it."

Maddux, who had taken two of his eight losses this season against the Mets, breezed through the next three innings. He allowed one runner to advance past first base and if not for Todd Zeile's smash off his left leg starting the fifth, he probably would have finished the game. His calf stiffened and he told manager Bobby Cox he was done after seven.

"The first step is out of the way," Chipper Jones said. "But there's two more steps to go."

Reach Bill Zack at bzack30143@aol.com