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Pedro starts slowly, gets better as Mets finish Braves

ATLANTA (AP) -- Pedro Martinez was a little concerned when he
first took the mound, and it showed.

But once he realized that his hip wasn't going to be a problem,
the Atlanta Braves never had a chance.

Martinez surrendered four runs in the first inning but didn't
give up any more, and the New York Mets stretched their already
commanding lead in the NL East with a 6-4 victory Friday night.

The right-hander was making his first start for New York since
June 28. He then went on the disabled list with an inflamed right
hip, which sidelined him for a month.

"You saw in the first two innings that I was a little
tentative," Martinez said. "Would it hurt? Would there still be
something wrong? But by the third inning, I let it go and nothing
bothered me."

Martinez (8-4) retired the last 12 hitters he faced before
turning it over to the bullpen, which shut down Atlanta without a
hit over the final three innings. Billy Wagner worked the ninth for
his 21st save.

The Braves, in fact, didn't have a hit after Chipper Jones'
leadoff double in the third.

"I've seen Pedro do that before," Mets manager Willie Randolph
said. "When you slap him around a little bit, he usually
responds."

The return of Martinez was another boost for the Mets, who
already are well positioned to end Atlanta's run of 14 straight
division titles.

"It seemed like everybody was glad to see me back out there,"
he said.

Jose Reyes and David Wright homered for the Mets, who increased
their advantage over the Braves to 13 games on a blistering night
that drew a record crowd of 53,943 to Turner Field. That broke the
Atlanta regular-season mark of 53,775 on April 8, 1974, when Hank
Aaron hit his 715th homer to eclipse Babe Ruth.

The Braves were hoping to make up some ground on the Mets during
this weekend series, but now they'll have to take the last two
games to avoid falling further behind.

"We just hit a lot of balls to the warning track all night long
and really couldn't square up a line drive," manager Bobby Cox
said.

After being staked to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first,
Martinez was pounded in the bottom half. Marcus Giles and Edgar
Renteria started with back-to-back single, Chipper Jones walked,
and Andruw Jones and doubled in two runs to tie it up.

Martinez finally got an out on Brian McCann's drive to the
warning track, but it was easily far enough for Chipper Jones to
tag up and score from third. Jeff Francoeur followed with a double
to the gap in left-center, giving the Braves a 4-2 lead.

Martinez finally got out of the inning on two hard-hit balls,
Adam LaRoche's deep fly and Ryan Langerhans' liner to center.

After that, the Braves hit three more flies to the warning track
against Martinez but managed only two more baserunners. Martinez
turned things over to the bullpen after throwing 77 pitches -- 38
off them in the first two innings.

The Mets quickly rallied against Horacio Ramirez (5-4), who got
off to a rough start and never got any better. Martinez sparked a
two-run second with a double down the left-field line, his first
two-base hit since July 5, 1997. Carlos Beltran tied the game with
a two-out, two-run double.

New York went ahead for good in the third and on Jose Valentin's
sacrifice fly, and picked up an insurance run in the seventh.
Wright hit his 22nd homer of the season off Oscar Villareal.

Ramirez was yanked in the fourth after his fourth and fifth
walks. He pitched from behind during most of his outing, throwing
first-pitch strikes to only seven of 21 hitters. He surrendered
seven hits in 3 1/3 innings.

"I couldn't calm myself down," Ramirez said. "As hard as I
tried not to think of it as bigger series than usual, I let my
emotions get the best of me."

Reyes started the game with his fourth leadoff homer this season
and sixth of his career. Julio Franco, making his first start since
the All-Star break, made it 2-0 with an RBI single off his former
team.

The Braves got more bad news in the fifth when Chipper Jones
left the game grimacing after grounding out. He re-injured a
strained left oblique muscle, which had limited him to only one
start over the five previous games, and was listed as day to day.

Game notes
After the game, Atlanta acquired reliever Danys Baez and
INF Willy Aybar from the struggling Los Angeles Dodgers for INF
Wilson Betemit. ... New York optioned RHP Heath Bell to Triple-A
Norfolk to clear a spot for Martinez. ... Mets manager Willie
Randolph said he won't mind if the team fails to make a
trade-deadline deal to bolster its starting rotation. "I believe
in my people," Randolph said. "They've produced all year for me.
I'm fine."