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Dickey dominates Braves over eight innings

NEW YORK -- In the past 10 days, the Mets have seen their manager erupt in a postgame press conference, their bullpen blow three winnable games and their defense evaporate at the most critical moment.

They experienced the ecstasy of the second-largest comeback in franchise history and watched as their dynamic shortstop continued to make his case for the title of baseball's most exciting player.

Along the way, they absorbed the news that their star third baseman would be out much longer than they had thought.

And yet, after defeating the Atlanta Braves, 6-4, Sunday night at Citi Field, the Mets exit this most unusual and eventful homestand right where they started -- in fourth place in the NL East, three games below .500.

Well, maybe not right where they started.

Though the Mets lost two out of three to the Phillies to begin the homestand, it ended with the Mets seven games behind the division leaders -- a half-game better than they'd been beforehand.

"We'll take the homestand," Collins said. "We had some tough times, but to come in here and beat the Braves two out of three, leave here on a positive note, win the series. You've got to look at it positively. We had a tough homestand and, you know what, we finished strong."

R.A. Dickey was again outstanding for the Mets, but where his 10-strikeout evening against Pittsburgh veered off-course in a three-run eighth inning, the knuckballer bent but did not break late Sunday night.

After cruising through the first six innings with just three baserunners allowed and none in scoring position, Dickey gave up a leadoff home run to Brian McCann. In his second start since suffering a partial tear in the plantar fascia of his right foot, Dickey rebounded to retire six of the final seven batters he faced, handing a 6-1 lead to Manny Acosta to start the ninth.

"Here's a guy whose foot is killing him, and he's so focused on doing all the things right that his foot doesn't bother him, and yet his concentration is so much better," Collins said. "The knuckleball was just working."

Carlos Beltran knocked in a run when his first-inning double scored Jose Reyes, whose leadoff single was the 13th of his 14 hits during the homestand. The shortstop missed three games against Pittsburgh while mourning the death of his grandmother, but was the best player on the field on both ends of his stay on the bereavement list.

In those games, Reyes batted .467 with three doubles, four triples and 11 runs scored. Though a leadoff hitter, he contributed five RBIs, the last of which put the Mets ahead 5-0 in the fourth inning. As Reyes slid into second base, using his speed to stretch a single into a double, the fans at Citi Field rewarded Reyes' otherworldly performance with a serenade of "Don't trade Reyes." It was the second night in a row the chant rang out at Citi Field.

"They must really like me," Reyes said. "They like me here. I'm just going to continue to do my job, I'm going to continue to play hard for this team."

As has so often been the case for New York's National League franchise, the good feelings do not come without a caveat. In the second inning, Beltran -- the league leader in doubles and the Mets' third-leading hitter by on-base percentage -- fouled a ball off the inside of his right shin.

Already playing on a pair of fragile knees, the 34-year-old came back to finish his at-bat after being checked on by Collins and the team's trainers, only to strike out swinging on the next pitch and leave the game immediately after.

Beltran is listed as day to day with a leg bruise after X-rays came back negative, but it's possible he could be out longer.

"Maybe the best thing to happen was for me to strike out right there because I don't know if I was going to be able to run," Beltran said. "When I jumped into the batter's box, I said 'Well, I'm trying to get a hit,' but at the same time, when I struck out it was relief because the at-bat was over. At the same time, I felt walking was painful."

Of course, the final Mets victory of this eventful homestand could not come to fruition without a little bit of late-inning drama. Acosta allowed two of the three batters he faced to reach base before being taken out of the game in favor of closer Francisco Rodriguez.

Rodriguez allowed a laser beam of a home run to Diory Hernandez that brought the Braves to within two. Though Rodriguez finished by striking out the final two batters to end the game, his performance of late led Collins to believe he might be going through a "dead arm" phase, a diagnosis Rodriguez said he disagreed with after the game.

It was the third time in his past four outings that Rodriguez has allowed a run, coming in a stretch in which the formerly rock-solid Mets bullpen has begun to waver. But just as the Mets rebounded from a series of heart-breaking losses to the Phillies, Pirates and Braves this past week and a half, Rodriguez is confident he, too, will weather the storm.

"It's been a rough week, no question, but I just got to get back on track," he said.

"There've been some bumps in the road, I'm just going to go through it."

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