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NYM@ATL: Gee hurls four shutout frames before rain

ATLANTA -- Shortly after the Mets and Braves entered the second rain delay of Wednesday's game, Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen sought out Terry Collins to ask if his starting pitcher, Dillon Gee, could return to the game. The manager said no. Gee was done. And Warthen noted how unfortunate that was, considering Gee was featuring his sharpest pitches of the season.

"That's a big statement," Collins said, "because he's pitched pretty darn good."

Gee pitched pretty darn good again on Wednesday, in a rain-soaked, hail-infested, lightning-filled 4-0 victory over the Braves. The weather prevented him from lasting longer than four innings and becoming the fourth pitcher in franchise history to start a season 8-0. But it did not prevent the Mets from reclaiming a .500 record for the first time since May 20.

"Ultimately, it's a stepping stone," said outfielder Jason Bay, who recorded his first multihit game since May. "While it's not the end goal, we're at that point."

They are at that point in large part thanks to Gee, who remained the only Major League pitcher with at least five starts whose team is undefeated when he takes the mound. Continuing to rely on his new cut fastball, Gee limited the Braves to one hit and two walks over four innings, striking out five.

He fanned Jordan Schafer and Dan Uggla to open the first inning. He caught Joe Mather looking to end the second inning and whiffed Uggla again to finish the third. He was efficient, needing just 53 pitches to complete his work.

"He's been giving us fits the last few times he's faced us," Braves starter Tim Hudson said, referencing Gee's undefeated record. "That's not a fluke. I think the kid is pretty good. He knows how to pitch."

The requisite offensive support came -- typically -- courtesy of Jose Reyes, who doubled to lead off the game, moved to third base on Jason Heyward's fielding error and scored on Ruben Tejada's groundout. Angel Pagan later hit a two-run homer off Hudson, though the Mets hardly needed it. After Gee left the game, D.J. Carrasco, Bobby Parnell and Francisco Rodriguez combined to fire five shutout innings of one-hit relief, with Parnell striking out the side in the seventh and picking up the victory.

"What you see is that plus fastball in the strike zone," Collins said. "That's what got him here last year. That's what made him special last year. That's what's going to keep him being special."

It was a special day for Parnell, indeed, and also for Carrasco, Gee and Bay. And it was a special victory for the Mets, in spite of everything conspiring against them.

Much of Wednesday's pregame chatter revolved around the wetness of Turner Field's infield dirt -- a sensitive topic after Reyes slipped three times and fell twice in Tuesday's victory. A day later, there was nothing the grounds crew could have done: A massive thunderstorm moved over downtown Atlanta shortly after 7 p.m. ET, pelting Turner Field with heavy rain and quarter-sized hail. Before Gee threw his first pitch, both teams sat through a one-hour, 22-minute rain delay.

Play began shortly thereafter, but the rain never quite dissipated. Rodriguez threw the game's final pitch 10 minutes after midnight amidst continued showers. Lightning flashed overhead moments before his pitch; minutes later, Turner Field's grounds crew hauled the tarp back on the field.

Though Bay called it a "blustery day," neither team seemed affected. And the Mets would hardly have cared had the rain not prevented Gee from picking up his eighth victory.

"It's almost unfortunate -- he should probably get the win," Carrasco said. "But it was good."

It was good for the Mets, mostly because they have not held a .500 record in nearly a month. The last time they reached this mark, back on May 20, they proceeded to lose three consecutive games and six of their last seven.

They've been digging out since.

Now, they are flush with confidence given the strong starting pitching of Gee, Jon Niese and Mike Pelfrey, the continued success of Reyes and the positive signs from Bay. They will need to play quite well if they want to stay above .500, considering their next eight series come against the Angels, A's, Rangers, Tigers, Yankees, Dodgers, Giants and Phillies -- all of whom entered this season with legitimate playoff aspirations.

If nothing else, they understand the degree of difficulty.

"Well, we're here," Collins said. "But we've got to stay here now."

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