Braves Spanked by Mets

NEW YORK (AP) -- Oliver Perez was so precise, he hardly resembled the pitcher who couldn't throw a strike in his previous start.

Perez struck out nine and walked none in an impressive bounce-back performance, and Carlos Beltran had four hits for the second time in three games to lead the New York Mets past the Atlanta Braves 7-2 on Saturday.

"To me, that guy can be one of the best pitchers in the game," Beltran said. "We're so happy he went out and pitched the game he did today. That's what we expect from him."

The Mets got big home runs from backups Ramon Castro and Damion Easley. Jose Reyes also homered off Chuck James (2-2) as New York's offense broke out after getting shut down by Tim Hudson in the series opener Friday night.

The rubber game Sunday will match old friends. John Smoltz faces Mets left-hander Tom Glavine, looking for his 294th win.

Beltran tripled, doubled and singled twice during a 4-for-5 day. He drove in two runs and scored twice.

Reyes got the Mets going from the leadoff spot. He finished with three hits, including a double, and also scored twice to help New York improve to 2-3 against NL East rival Atlanta this year.

"We look forward to another confrontation tomorrow," Braves slugger Chipper Jones said. "Hopefully, we can get a win and take the series."

Perez (2-1) gave up two runs and nine hits in 6 2-3 innings, but it was his pinpoint control that was most astonishing. One outing after he walked seven Phillies in only 2 2-3 innings, the left-hander threw 20 consecutive strikes during one stretch from the first into the third.

"Strikes, nothing but strikes," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said. "He's pitched well against our ballclub. You throw that many strikes as hard as he was throwing and with that movement, you're going to win."

Pitching on nine days' rest because of a pair of rainouts, Perez threw 33 of his first 39 pitches for strikes and 50 of his first 65. He threw 98 pitches in all, 72 for strikes.

"It's a nice bounce-back game for him," Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "He needed to get back in his rhythm, and he did. You've got to throw away the stinkers every once in a while. Everyone is entitled to it. But it's good to see him come back with a strong outing."

New York Mets' Oliver Perez makes it to first base safely as the throw skips out of the dirt to elude Atlanta Braves first baseman Craig Wilson during the second inning in Major League Baseball action Saturday, April 21, 2007 at in New York.

Control problems got Perez shipped out of Pittsburgh last year, so his last outing against Philadelphia was alarming. But he insisted he was fine, saying his previous problems were a result of being nervous.

"When he's calm, he's good," Beltran said.

This time, Perez couldn't miss.

After throwing three bullpen sessions during his layoff, Perez sure looked confident Saturday. He never went to three balls on a batter, and he fanned leadoff hitter Kelly Johnson four times.

"Tough day to see, tough pitcher, throwing a lot of strikes," Johnson said. "He threw me seven or eight sliders for strikes. Somebody who throws that hard and throws a breaking ball for strikes makes it real tough. Not a frustrating day, I think just a tip-your-cap day."

Perez also beat the Braves in his first start of the season, tossing seven strong innings with no walks in an 11-1 victory at Atlanta.

When he was lifted Saturday, he got a huge hand and tipped his cap to the crowd of 55,143 after leaping over the first-base line on his way to the dugout.

"When you have a game like that, you have to feel happy about what you did," Perez said.

Rookie reliever Joe Smith struck out Andruw Jones with the bases loaded to end the seventh and preserve a 7-2 lead.

Castro hit a two-run shot in the fifth to give New York a 4-0 lead, his third home run in 16 at-bats this season. Castro, who has made four starts in place of No. 1 catcher Paul Lo Duca, has eight RBIs.

New York Mets' Damion Easley, left, greets Ramon Castro at the plate after Castro hit a two-run home run against the Atlanta Braves during the fifth inning in Major League Baseball action Saturday, April 21, 2007 at in New York.

Atlanta finally got to Perez in the sixth with three consecutive hits, including an RBI double by Andruw Jones that left runners at second and third. But after a visit from pitching coach Rick Peterson, the left-hander got out of the inning with no further damage.

Easley, starting at second base for Jose Valentin, homered leading off the bottom half for his first hit with the Mets.

"It helps the regular guys," Easley said, "to know that they've got guys that are capable of going in there and not missing a beat."

On the next pitch, James came up and in on Perez, who stared out at the mound and then nodded his head. After Perez struck out, Reyes homered to left to make it 6-1 and chase James. Beltran added an RBI triple off Tyler Yates, matching his career high for hits.

"I prefer to get the hits and let somebody else do the interviews," Beltran said.

James allowed six runs and 10 hits in 5 1-3 innings.

Atlanta cut it to 7-2 in the seventh on an RBI single by pinch-hitter Chris Woodward.

Notes

Reyes got his ninth stolen base. ... Chipper Jones has hit safely in 14 of 17 games this season. ... Perez threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of 29 batters. He had an 0-2 count on nine hitters. ... The Mets entered batting a major league-best .352 against lefties.

Updated on Saturday, Apr 21, 2007 6:23 pm EDT


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