ATLANTA -- Second-half success is nothing new for Johan Santana.
Beating the Atlanta Braves? Now that was a career first for the left-hander.
Santana threw seven scoreless innings to take some pressure off New York's struggling offense and the Mets beat the Braves 5-1 on Saturday.
Santana earned his first career victory against the Braves, improving to 1-4 despite his 1.96 ERA in seven career starts against Atlanta.
"It's always good to get the first one out of the way," Santana said.
The Mets had lost 8 of 11, including the first two games of the four-game series to the Braves by a combined margin of 16-3.
"We needed that one really bad," Santana said.
"We still have a long way to go. We need to get on a roll."
The Mets began the day 8 1/2 games back of NL East-leading Philadelphia, their largest deficit since they were nine games out after play on Sept. 29, 2005, according to STATS LLC.
It's only the seventh time in the last 23 games that the Mets have scored more than four runs.
"We did some things right on offense," said Mets manager Jerry Manuel.
Mets left fielder Gary Sheffield, who left Friday night's game with cramping in his right hamstring, did not play. He said he may return as early as Sunday.
For his second straight start, Santana (11-7) gave up only five hits in seven scoreless innings.
Kawakami (5-7) gave up five hits and two runs in 6 2/3 innings.
Santana was sharp in his first start since the All-Star break, continuing his career trend. He improved to 59-17 in his career after the break. His .776 winning second-half percentage is the best all-time for pitchers with at least 75 decisions.
He was 8-0 with a 2.17 ERA in 15 second-half starts in 2008.
"When you face a guy like Santana you've got to do everything that you can to get one run or to hold them," said Braves manager Bobby Cox. "He was that good today. Today goes to Santana."
Santana gave up a first-inning double to Martin Prado and a second-inning single to Casey Kotchman and then didn't give up another hit until the Braves loaded the bases with one out in the seventh with singles by Matt Diaz, Church and pinch-hitter Garret Anderson.
Santana struck out Nate McLouth, who is in an 0-for-15 slump, and ended the threat on Martin Prado's groundout to third base.
"I didn't lose my composure," Santana said. "I was able to throw the right pitches."
Santana has thrown 15 straight scoreless innings, lowering his ERA (2.92) under 3.00 for the first time since he gave up nine runs to the Yankees on June 14.
"That was interesting," Manuel said. "We don't know Jeff as well as Bobby does. We still have to try to figure him out."
In the first, Francoeur grounded out to shortstop Yunel Escobar to end the inning, but the strategy backfired on the Braves in the sixth and ninth innings.
In the sixth, Francoeur's infield single loaded the bases with one out. Kawakami walked Reed to force in Luis Castillo, who led off the inning with a single. Omir Santos drove in Wright with a grounder that forced out Reed at second base, giving the Mets a 2-0 lead.
The Mets scored their first two runs in the ninth on Pagan's run-scoring triple and Castillo's suicide squeeze bunt. Acosta walked Daniel Murphy, who stole second, setting up the third intentional walk of the game to Wright. Francoeur's single up the middle drove in Murphy.
The sixth-inning runs were the first for the Mets since the fourth inning of Thursday night's series opener. They had a streak of 23 straight scoreless innings end on July 8.
Attendance was 51,175, a season high at Turner Field for the second straight day. ... RHP Tim Hudson is scheduled to throw two innings for Class A Myrtle Beach on Sunday in his first injury rehabilitation appearance since his elbow ligament-replacement surgery last year.