El Duque emerges as Mets' new ace
With Martinez out, Hernandez tunes up for Game 1 start
ATLANTA -- On a night that any hope of having Pedro Martinez for the playoffs was officially extinguished, the Mets showed their hope of making a long postseason run is still burning brightly.
Martinez is out for the season after an MRI exam revealed a muscle tendon tear of the left calf, but Orlando Hernandez showed why he's the Mets' choice to open the National League Division Series.
"He's one of those guys that knows exactly what he's doing," manager Willie Randolph said of his new ace following the Mets' 7-4 victory over the Atlanta Braves in the series finale Thursday night at Turner Field. "He got sharper and sharper as the game went on."
Hernandez (11-11), who prior to the game was named as the Mets' starter in Game 1 of next week's NLDS, got the win, going five innings and allowing only one unearned run. Hernandez allowed three hits and tied his season high with nine strikeouts. He threw 102 pitches, 61 for strikes.
The win snapped a two-start losing streak for El Duque, who lowered his ERA since Aug. 20 to 1.69. Hernandez raised his lifetime record against the Braves to 3-1 (a perfect 3-0 in Atlanta), while lowering his ERA at Turner Field to 0.45 (one earned run in 20 innings).
"I think now I can think about the playoffs and talk about the playoffs and I feel like I'm prepared for it, that I'm ready for it," said Hernandez, who had more important things on his mind -- he dedicated the game to his close friend Rafael "Billy" Morales, who died earlier Thursday. "I think this is a positive way to finish the regular season. Now I can concentrate on the playoffs."
El Duque may have given the Mets one less thing to worry about. But according to catcher Paul Lo Duca, they've never worried about Hernandez.
"He's been unbelievable his last 10 starts," said Lo Duca, who is hitting .391 over his last six games after going 2-for-3 with an RBI and two runs scored on Thursday night. "He's been great for us, and he has a great track record in the playoffs. He's a very formidable No. 1 starter. We feel confident with him on the mound."
That confidence was apparent from the get-go in the series finale as the Mets, who managed just one run in the first two games of the series against John Smoltz and Tim Hudson, scored three times off rookie Kyle Davies before a batter was retired in the first.
New York totaled seven runs on 10 hits, a relative offensive explosion for a team that scored more than four runs for only the second time in its last 14 games.
The Mets didn't come out swinging as much as they did looking as eight of Davies' first nine pitches were out of the strike zone, allowing Jose Reyes, who went two-for-four with an RBI and two runs scored, and Lo Duca to both reach via walk.
Carlos Beltran then followed with a sacrifice bunt that was muffed by Atlanta catcher Brian McCann for an error. That loaded the bases for Carlos Delgado.
The Mets first baseman, who began the night four RBIs behind Beltran on the season and four behind Philadelphia's Ryan Howard for RBIs since Aug. 17, ripped a 2-2 pitch to the wall in right-center, clearing the bases and driving in his 111th, 112th and 113th runs of the season.
Davies (3-7) took the loss for Atlanta, his fifth in six outings since coming off the disabled list, allowing five runs and five hits in 3 1/3 innings, but also issuing a season-high six walks. He threw 94 pitches, only 49 for strikes.
Beltran made Mets history leading off the sixth, blasting a 3-2 pitch from Atlanta reliever Peter Moylan into the seats in right field. The homer broke a 15-game homerless drought and tied Beltran with Todd Hundley, who hit 41 round-trippers in 1996. The Mets center fielder also tied franchise single-season records for extra-base hits (80), set by Howard Johnson in 1989, and runs (123), set by Edgardo Alfonzo in 1999.
"Carlos Beltran had a big night tonight," Randolph said. "He's having an MVP-type year. It was good to see him going. Even though he hasn't had a lot of hits the last three or four days, his walks have been big for me."
Delgado added an RBI double in the fourth, while Lo Duca and Reyes added RBI singles in the second and fifth, respectively.
Four relievers allowed three runs and seven hits over the final four innings, after the game was already safely salted away.
In a game that had a playoff feel to it weather-wise -- it was 69 degrees with 19 mph winds at first pitch -- the Mets hope that it was indeed a dress rehearsal for next week's NLDS, even if their star is no longer in the picture.
"I don't feel good because Pedro's not going to be with us and Pedro's hurt," said Hernandez. "But I have to assume the responsibility that they give me and face the truth, and I'll be ready for it."
Jon Cooper is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.