Originally created 09/21/00

Mets avoid sweep



ATLANTA -- Put away the brooms; the New York Mets still have a pulse.

The question now is this: Will the Braves survive a trip north of the border and make next week's series at Shea Stadium a moot point, or will they stretch this pennant race to the final weekend?

Twenty-four hours after Bobby Valentine's clubhouse tirade, the Mets showed they still have some fight left by holding off the Braves 6-3 Wednesday night before a packed house (48,278) at Turner Field, reducing Atlanta's lead in the NL East to four games with 10 left.

"More than their whole mystique, this was about stopping our losing mentality here and getting on the right track," said Mets starter and winner Al Leiter, referring to New York's first September win in Atlanta since 1996.

The Braves took two of the three games, but could have catapulted themselves into October with some effective relief and by capitalizing on three bases-loaded opportunities.

"The road is not easy for us," left fielder Reggie Sanders said. "But we're very happy with where we are right now."

With a timely hit or two, the Braves could have all but wrapped up the division. They loaded the bases in three of the final four innings, but came away with no runs, and relievers Mike Remlinger and Terry Mulholland gave the Mets three runs in the eighth and ninth.

Brian Jordan popped to third with the bases jammed in the sixth, then Andruw Jones flied to right with the sacks full in the seventh and pinch hitter Wally Joyner tapped to second in the eighth with three more runners aboard.

"We had a lot of opportunities, but (John) Franco and (Armando Benitez) did a great job," first baseman Andres Galarraga said. "I know we wanted to sweep, but we've got to stay positive."

For the segment of fans who believe pitching is a lost art, Tom Glavine and Leiter painted a masterpiece. Leiter retired the first 16 Braves and didn't allow a hit until the sixth, while Glavine, who was making a third try for his 20th win, set down 14 of the first 16 batters he faced.

They did it with contrasting styles, Leiter using a 92 mph fastball and a hard, biting slider, and Glavine (19-9) massaging the outside corner with fastballs and changeups.

"That was Al Leiter at his best," Mets manager Bobby Valentine said.

Benny Agbayani's run-scoring single in the fifth ended Glavine's shutout, then Edgardo Alfonzo started the sixth by launching a 1-and-1 delivery into the second row of the left field stands to make it 2-0, and Todd Zeile tucked a 343-foot home run just inside the right field foul pole to give the Mets an extra run.

Leiter (16-7) paid dearly for some careless defense in the sixth. His perfect game, no-hit bid and shutout ended when Walt Weiss' roller slipped beneath third baseman Robin Ventura's glove for an error. He went to second on Bobby Bonilla's tapper to third, then Rafael Furcal worked Leiter through 11 pitches before lining the 12th into left field to make it 3-1.

"The name of the game tonight was Leiter," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He was really good, dominant."

In the seventh, a tiring Leiter issued successive walks to Javy Lopez and Sanders, then Weiss delivered a run-scoring single, but Sanders rounded second too far and was caught retreating. That blunder cost a run when pinch-hitter Steve Sisco followed with a single to left, chasing Leiter.

That brought Franco out of the bullpen, and he walked Furcal to load the bases, then coaxed Jones to fly to right on a 3-and-1 pitch.

"I should have been a little more patient there and taken a walk," Jones said.

So, it's on to Montreal for the Braves, who have dropped six of nine games to the Expos this season. They will play four at Olympic Stadium starting Friday night, then conclude the trip with three more against the Mets next week.

"We'll go up there with a lot of intensity," reliever Mike Remlinger said. "We know Montreal is going to play us tough."

Reach Bill Zack at bzack30143@aol.com.