ATLANTA (and PHILADELPHIA) -- "A sweep after a swept" is how Billy Wagner put it in the afterglow of Sunday's 3-2 win over the Braves. He shook his head, though not at the syntax. One couldn't be separated from the other, he decided. What had happened to the Mets in one city couldn't be appreciated without considering what they did in the other.

And so, this uppercase tale of two cities is what the Mets had to ponder as they prepared for a third. They had gone to extremes -- three up after four down -- before they departed for Cincinnati. They had executed a three-game sweep of the Braves, of all teams. And, for sure, the sweep could stand on its own merit. But it was all tangled together with four unrewarding games in Philadelphia. The sweep, and the swept, could not be separated without compromising the integrity of both.

So the Mets looked at both -- not each -- through one prism, and they liked what they saw. Their victory in the finale in Atlanta had made complete their about-face and energized them at least as much as they had been demoralized by the Philly Four.

"It's not necessarily a bad thing," Tom Glavine said about the "swept," his perception altered by the prism.

And after further review, manager Willie Randolph conceded, the Mets unwittingly had chosen the most beneficial means of producing a 3-4 record in these seven road engagements.

"We probably come out of it feeling better about ourselves than if we split both series," Randolph said.

At this juncture of their on-again, off-again season -- after 136 games and one game before Pedro -- the Mets have asserted themselves. And in some ways, that is more important than the arithmetic of the National League East.

As Randolph greeted his players in front of the mound, after Wagner had completed his no-net high-wire act, he made fist-to-fist contact with each. The division race and games behind were unmentioned.

"I said 'Proud,' 'Proud,' 'Proud' to each man," Randolph said. "That's what I do when they surprise me like that. I am very proud right now."

Randolph had only incomplete information about the division race as he expressed his pride to his winning pitcher, Glavine; his saver, Wagner; and David Wright, who provided the margin for victory with a two-run homer off John Smoltz. All he knew at the time was that the Braves had been shoved to 7 1/2 games behind with merely 25 games remaining.

Later, the clubhouse widescreen told him that the Phillies had lost again, and again were four games back, as they had been on Aug. 18. The Mets' net loss for the past seven days was three games in the standings, but they had managed a net gain of 15 days. The calendar's squeeze play is under way. Sweeping changes had happened over a single weekend.

"And," Randolph said, "we probably ticked off [the Braves] enough that they'll beat up on Philly now."

Perhaps it was a suggestion disguised as a hope.

As the Mets fled Turner Field, probably for the last time this season, it occurred to them that the Phillies are the next visitors. The Mets cackled.

"We're four games and one city ahead," one said softly. "And they have less time to make up ground."

They played as well in executing their first September sweep at Turner as the Phillies did last week. It was thorough dominance in a ballpark where, before this weekend, they had lost 21 of 26 games and seen four of their seasons die painfully.

They had played as well in executing their first September sweep at Turner as the Phillies had last week. It was thorough dominance in a ballpark where, before this weekend, they had lost 21 of 26 September games and had seen four of their seasons die painfully. But in this series, the Braves scored four times in 27 innings. They had no extra-base hits until Brian McCann pulled Wagner's second pitch since Thursday's collapse in Philly for a double to initiate the requisite ninth-inning hand-wringing.

A run-scoring single by Kelly Johnson followed, affording the Mets an unwanted opportunity to improve their record in one-run games -- now 19-11. Johnson's hit also prompted Paul Lo Duca to visit Wagner and deliver some technical advice.

"Use your legs more," the catcher told the closer.

"You think he could have mentioned that a few pitches earlier?" Wagner said later.

Once the advice was implemented, Wagner's fastball regained its vibrancy. Pete Orr attempted to sacrifice, but Carlos Delgado fielded the too-hard bunt and forced Johnson at second. The game changed right there.

"[I'm] really proud of that play," Randolph said. "That's a pennant-race play."

Seven pickoff attempts and two pitches later, Yunel Escobar grounded to Delgado, who stepped on the bag and threw to second. But Jose Reyes' attempted catch-and-tag -- it would have been a "pennant-race play" -- produced only an error and more work for Wagner, whose 30th save came when Matt Diaz grounded out to second.

When it was over, Wagner looked through the prism and acknowledged the turn of events.

"It was hard after what happened the other day," he said. "I know what other people think ... that the other day and today are connected, like this is some test for me. I'm not sure it was, but waiting to get in a game wasn't any fun."

Wagner's performance enabled Glavine -- in what probably was his final game against the Braves -- to gain the 302nd victory of his career, his 51st victory at Turner Field, his fourth against his former team and his first in five starts opposite his friend Smoltz.

Whether the Mets will play another game in Atlanta this season will be determined in the next four weeks, though the chance or a return seems rather remote. And that being the case, Glavine probably has thrown his final pitch in his former place of work.

That struck him, he said, "for maybe 15 fleeting seconds."

Glavine threw 99 others as well, most of them quite effective. Indeed, Glavine's arm and Wright's 25th home run were the primary components in the victory.

Strangely, Glavine also provided a review of his Braves career during his six innings.

He started poorly, ended effectively and departed with little fanfare. And, for good measure, he drove in a run with a well-struck, bases-loaded sacrifice fly that Andruw Jones ran down on the warning track in left-center field in the second inning.

Oh, how he wanted that to fall. Neither he nor Smoltz ever has had a three-run double against the other.

"I'd take that any time," Glavine said. "But we won, and after what happened in Philadelphia, that's the most important thing."