Byrd is 8-1 against Mets

NEW YORK (AP) -- J.D. Drew had four hits and three RBI, and Paul Byrd pitched eight strong innings to lead the Atlanta Braves over

the New York Mets 7-1 on Monday night for a doubleheader split.

Mike Piazza and Richard Hidalgo homered in the opener, helping New York rally for a 9-7 win. Pinch-hitter Craig Brazell came through with a go-ahead double, making sure manager Art Howe had at least one thing to smile about on a difficult day.

A newspaper reported Monday that the slumping Mets have already decided to fire Howe after the season. He said if that's true, he wants to be let go immediately.

"Why put me through this?" Howe said. "I'd rather have it

happen now. There's no sense in waiting."

Drew and Adam LaRoche each hit a two-out, two-run double during Atlanta's four-run third inning in the nightcap. Jae Seo (4-10) got into trouble when he walked Byrd with one out.

Rafael Furcal hit a sacrifice fly in the fourth, Drew had an RBI

single in the seventh off Heath Bell and Eli Marrero added a

sacrifice fly in the ninth.

That was plenty for Byrd (7-5), who quickly recovered from Mike Cameron's leadoff homer in the first. He allowed seven hits, struck out four and walked none to win for the third time in four starts.

The right-hander also improved to 8-1 in 13 lifetime appearances

against his former team, including 11 starts.

Chris Reitsma finished with a perfect ninth.

Drew went 6-for-9 with four RBI in the doubleheader, and

LaRoche was 4-for-7. The NL East-leading Braves sent the

free-falling Mets to their 20th loss in 23 games.

Seo allowed five runs and seven hits in four innings, dropping

to 0-5 in nine outings since beating Cincinnati 7-5 on June 29.

New York is only 2½ games ahead of last-place Montreal in the NL

East.

After the Mets spent all afternoon answering questions about

Howe, they came back from a three-run deficit in the opener for an

uplifting victory.

With less than 1,000 fans in the stands at the start, Aaron Heilman (1-1) earned his first major league win in more than a year and Wilson Delgado also homered for New York.

"I didn't read any stories. I didn't even know what was going

on. I don't think that changes anything," Heilman said. "We've

got to go out there and give it everything we've got, every game,

every pitch, every inning. I don't think it's changed our approach

at all."

Andruw Jones hit a two-run shot to help the Braves build a 4-1

lead in the first game, but Jaret Wright (14-7) couldn't hold it.

New York scored five times in the sixth. Piazza hit a two-run

homer, and Brazell's two-out, two-run double down the right-field

line gave the Mets a 5-4 lead.

The RBI were the first of Brazell's major league career.

Cameron capped the burst with an RBI single off Kevin Gryboski.

Drew hit an RBI double off Ricky Bottalico in the seventh, but Hidalgo's three-run homer off Travis Smith in the bottom half made it 9-5.

Bartolome Fortunato struck out two in a perfect eighth, and

Braden Looper got three outs to finish it. He gave up a two-run

double to Chipper Jones in the ninth.

Heilman, recalled from Triple-A Norfolk for the second time this

year last Wednesday, allowed four runs and seven hits in six

innings for his first win since Aug. 12, 2003, against San

Francisco. The 2001 first-round draft pick struck out six.

Wright, who had won three straight decisions, gave up six runs

and seven hits in 5 2-3 innings.

Furcal hit an RBI triple and Marcus Giles had a run-scoring

double in Atlanta's four-run fourth.

Game notes
Cameron hit his first leadoff homer since May 9, 2000, with

Seattle at Texas. It was the eighth leadoff homer of the season for

the Mets, a team record. ... The Mets are 3-3 in doubleheaders.

They swept Colorado and were swept by the Yankees. ... Brazell also

had a pinch-hit single in the nightcap. ... Braves LHP Mike Hampton

has a torn meniscus in his left knee and will need surgery during

the offseason. He's expected to rejoin the team Tuesday, but

whether he can pitch will depend on how he feels. ... Piazza's

377th homer tied him with Norm Cash for 55th place on the career

list. Piazza sat out the second game. ... New York LHP Tom Glavine

felt better, one day after he was hit on the left shin by a

comebacker. The team was unsure if Glavine could make his next

scheduled start Friday. ... Attendance was 21,476 for a

doubleheader that was scheduled to make up a July 23 rainout.