Mets swap roles with Braves
Perez delivers a strong outing, while Wright provides the punch
NEW YORK -- He's in his fourth big league September now, which hardly qualifies him as a sage or makes his voice one of experience. Truth be told, David Wright is involved in a pennant push for the first time now -- for as long as this one lasts, anyway. None existed last season, and the Mets weren't contending in 2004 or '05 -- not really.
Just the same, Wright can recall the Septembers of his first two years and how uncomfortable it was to play the Braves as they went about the process of elimination. Wright can remember what he sensed when the Braves were the Mets' opponent and pushing toward their umpteenth straight division championship.
"I don't want to say we were intimidated," Wright said, "but you always had that feeling they were going to do something. You always wondered, 'What are they doing to do this time? Who's going to make the play that turns this game?'"
Some 45 minutes after the Mets had pushed the 2007 Braves to the verge of elimination, Wright weighed the uncompromising and comprehensive performance that the Mets had given in the 3-2 victory on Monday, and he thought he saw some of the old Braves in the current Mets. His team had made the plays, his team had made the pitches. The Braves hadn't.
"I know we're not there," Wright said.
And he knows it's likely no team will duplicate the run the Braves made before the Mets put an end to it last season.
"But tonight," Wright said, "I think we played like they did."
As much as a team can dominate an opponent in a one-run game, the Mets dominated the Braves. They asserted themselves against a team they had swept two weekends past, and they severely damaged the Braves' already remote chances of reaching the postseason, all the while enhancing their own.
With Wright underscoring his improved National League MVP credentials, Oliver Perez giving a solid performance and their bullpen providing two clean innings, the Mets maintained their NL East lead over the second-place Phillies, who beat the Rockies on Monday, at six games, reduced their clinching number to 14 and pushed the third-place Braves 9 1/2 games from first place.
The Mets won for the ninth time in 10 games and the fourth straight time against the Braves. They won the first game of a series for the 32nd time in 47 chances, put their record 21 games over .500 for the first time and impressed themselves in the process.
"This stretch," Wright said, "this is the best we've played all year."
And that they are playing their best in September makes the impression all the more positive.
"I know how we felt when the Braves would handle us," Wright said. "You almost felt like they'd just be waiting to do it."
Wright also spoke of the return of the Mets' swagger, three innings after he demonstrated it. At the time he batted in the sixth inning, the Mets needed a sacrifice fly.
"I just wanted to elevate anything I got," he said.
Instead, Wright hit his 28th home run, a career high -- with Jose Reyes on base -- against losing pitcher Tim Hudson to provide Perez a thee-run lead and answer the question: "Who's going to make the play that turns this game?"
Wright also put himself within two home runs of a 30-30 season and two runs and five RBIs of a 100-100 season. Chants of "M-V-P, M-V-P" preceded and followed the home run.
With Aaron Heilman and Billy Wagner (33rd save) handling the final six outs, Perez gained his 14th victory, a career high. Having walked five batters in each of his previous three starts, the lefty walked two and surrendered five hits. The one that wasn't a single was Brian McCann's home run on a 3-2 fastball with two outs in the seventh inning, which changed the dynamic of the game. Perez also struck out seven.
Despite McCann's home run, Carlos Beltran called Perez's seven innings, "The best I've seen him pitch in his time with us. ... I told him he ought to get a videotape of this game and watch it."
"Total package, it probably was his best," Tom Glavine said. "Stuff and composure. His body language was good. Sometimes he gets cocky and loses some focus. But he was in charge tonight. I think they knew that. And that set tone."
Somehow, the lead Perez left for the bullpen to protect seemed more substantial than one run.
"It's the way we carried ourselves," manager Willie Randolph said. "We made this game ours early."
And late. A sprawling catch in left-center field by Beltran ended the game and answered the question: "What are they doing to do this time?" Three innings earlier, Luis Castillo sneaked in behind Hudson, the runner on second base, and completed the pickoff of the Braves pitcher.
No one in the Mets' clubhouse knew enough to say, "They used to make plays like that to beat us." But the Braves did. Now the Mets do. They're playing exceptionally well, beating the better pitchers, too, including Hudson twice. Wright's home run was the third the Mets have hit in two games against Hudson (15-8) in 11 days. He has allowed nine home runs all season.
The Mets seem to making a statement, not that they'll acknowledge that. But Randolph came close.
With the Phillies following the Braves into Shea Stadium this week, "hopefully, by the end of the week, we can put an emphatic exclamation point on the season," said Randolph.
The Braves used to do that.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.