NEW YORK (AP) -- Atlanta manager Bobby Cox has been around
baseball long enough to know that games are often won and lost by
the bullpen. New York Mets manager Art Howe knows all about the
losses part. He'd just like to figure out the wins.
The contrast between the Braves and Mets bullpen was dramatic Saturday night in Atlanta's 5-2 victory. Chris Reitsma and John Smoltz retired the last six Mets hitters in order after three Mets relievers imploded, allowing four runs in the top of the eighth
inning."A lot of it reflects on your bullpen," Cox said. "If you
hold them, you can come back."The Mets' pen hasn't held anybody lately. New York has lost
eight of its last 11 games and relievers have been directly
responsible for the last four defeats.Julio Franco's game-tying double keyed the Braves' rally after
Al Leiter and Mike DeJean nursed a 2-1 lead into the eighth.Needing six more outs, Howe turned first to Mike Stanton."That's his role," the manager said, "to come in the eighth
and put a zero on the board."Instead, Stanton (0-4) gave up a single to Chipper Jones, who
ended an 0-for-13 skid, and Franco's RBI double -- then left to a
chorus of boos."Right now, when I make mistakes, they're hitting it," he
said. "I made two mistakes tonight."And the boos?"No one is harder on me than me," he said.Next Howe brought in Ricky Bottalico. He retired Andruw Jones
and walked Johnny Estrada intentionally as the Mets looked for a
double play. Instead, Bottalico also walked Eli Marrero, loading
the bases."I never saw a bullpen going through a funk like this,"
Bottalico said. "We've got to try and turn this thing around."Desperate now, Howe went to his best man in the bullpen, closer
Braden Looper. But Looper surrendered a sacrifice fly to pinch
hitter Adam LaRoche and RBI hits to Rafael Furcal and Marcus Giles
for a three-run Atlanta lead.It was plenty for Reitsma and Smoltz, who got his 19th save."Reitsma's been lights out the last two outings and Smoltz has
been lights out all season," Cox said.Mets starter Al Leiter battled through five innings, throwing
117 pitches, just 58 for strikes. He walked five batters and struck
out four but went to 3-and-2 counts on 11 batters, including the
first four Atlanta hitters in the game.But he squirmed out of trouble repeatedly, leaving the bases
loaded in the third, stranding a leadoff runner at second base in
the fourth and left two more runners on after two-out walks in the
fifth.Then he turned the game over to the Mets bullpen. Newly acquired
Mike DeJean pitched two shutout innings before Atlanta rallied in
the eighth.The Braves scored first when Franco opened the second inning
with a walk, moved up on an infield out and came in on Estrada's
single.New York tied it in the third on one-out walks to Kaz Matsui and
Cliff Floyd and an RBI-single by Richard Hidalgo, and took the lead
in the fifth when Jose Reyes beat out a bunt, stole second, moved
to third on an infield out and scored on a double by Floyd.The Mets loaded the bases with none out in the first inning but
failed to score.Reyes led off with a single and Matsui and Floyd walked. But
John Thomson (8-7) escaped by getting Hidalgo to ground into a
double play that forced Reyes at the plate and Ty Wigginton to pop
up.New York has managed just 15 hits in 87 bases-loaded
opportunities this season.Thomson worked seven innings and allowed seven hits and two
runs. He walked five and struck out four.
Catchers Vance Wilson of the Mets and Estrada of the Braves
both committed throwing errors on stolen bases in the first inning.
... Drew extended his hitting streak to 20 games. ... The Shea
Stadium crowd of 33,166 cheered Boston's ninth-inning comeback
victory over the Yankees when it was posted on the scoreboard. ...
Reyes stole two bases, giving him nine for the season. ... Thomson
reached 1,000 innings for his career.