Maddux picks up 286th career win

ATLANTA (AP) -- The change was evident as soon as the eighth
inning ended -- no blaring music, no video introduction and, more
importantly, no John Smoltz.

Greg Maddux earned his 286th win, Chipper Jones drove in all
four Atlanta runs and the Braves won their first game without
Smoltz, beating the New York Mets 4-1 Wednesday night.

Kent Mercker closed it out in place of Smoltz, who went on the
disabled list earlier in the day with tendinitis in his right
elbow. The problem is not considered serious, however, and he's not
expected to have any lingering effects when he returns Sept. 8.

"You've just got to do what you normally do," said Mercker,
who got his first save since 1992. "Your goal is to get three outs
before they tie the score."

It was the first time a pitcher other than Smoltz earned a save
for Atlanta since Jung Keun Bong did it in a 15-3 victory over
Cincinnati on May 28.

Smoltz leads the majors with 44 saves. Bong was called up from
Triple-A Richmond to replace him in the bullpen and should join the
team Thursday.

Atlanta manager Bobby Cox won't name a single replacement for
Smoltz, choosing instead to make the decision on a game-by-game

"We'll switch it around, we'll move those guys in and out,"
Cox said.

Maddux (13-10) pitched around a 29-minute rain delay in the
fourth to win his second straight start. With at least five starts
left this season, he appears on track to win at least 15 games for
a record 16th straight season.

Only Maddux and Cy Young have done it in 15 consecutive seasons,
but Maddux insisted he's not counting wins at this point.

"You can't win two games in one day, so why worry about it?"
he said. "It's not going to help me pitch better to think about
it, I know that. I've been there, done that. I really don't think
about it."

To keep loose during the delay, Maddux threw one session of live
batting practice to his teammates in an indoor cage.

"You can do it with a guy like me, but you can't do it with a
young guy," Maddux said. "I've already had my career, I don't
have anything to risk at this point."

He went six innings against the Mets and allowed only three
hits, including a mammoth solo homer by Mike Piazza in the fifth,
his second in two days. Maddux didn't walk anyone and struck out

"That's his brand," New York manager Art Howe said. "It's not
as easy as he makes it look. It was a valuable lesson if we pay
attention to it."

Cox waited to remove Maddux until he came out to start the
seventh, when Maddux had a tough time warming up. Kevin Gryboski
took over and got two quick outs, then loaded the bases on a walk
and two hit batters.

But Will Cunnane, who joined the team earlier this month from
Triple-A Richmond, came in and struck out pinch-hitter Tony Clark
to end the threat.

Mercker walked Marco Scutaro leading off the ninth, and Piazza
singled with one out. But Mercker retired the next two batters to
end it.

"I was nervous," he said. "If I get another chance to do
that, I'll be a little more relaxed."

Jones gave the Braves a 3-0 lead in the third with a three-run
homer off Aaron Heilman (2-6), a 438-foot shot to center field. In
the fourth, Jones singled home Gary Sheffield for an insurance run.

Marcus Giles added three hits for Atlanta, which won for the
fourth time in five games. The Braves have a 15-game lead in the NL

"It's going to be awfully difficult to catch them," Howe said.
"They have depth. They have that thing called experience, too.
They've been there before."

Heilman struggled through three innings, allowing three runs on
five hits and walking four. He didn't return after the rain delay.

"That guy might have 400 or 500 starts in him," Maddux said.
"You don't (throw) that away on a rainy night in Atlanta."

Game notes
Piazza's home run was his 347th as a catcher, four shy of
Carlton Fisk's record. ... New York OF Roger Cedeno missed the game
to be with his 3-year-old daughter, who had minor surgery at a
nearby hospital. Michele Cedeno was in Atlanta for the three-game
series against the Braves when she got sick. ... New York LHP Pedro
Feliciano left in the sixth with a blister on the middle finger of
his pitching hand. ... The crowd of 23,755 pushed the Braves over
the 2 million mark for the 13th straight season.