El Duque delivers win as Mets top Braves, snap skid

ATLANTA (AP) -- Orlando Hernandez gave the New York Mets the type
of performance they'll need when he starts their playoff opener in
place of Pedro Martinez.

If it happens, where would the Cardinals collapse rank in baseball history? Plus, the Mets are without Pedro Martinez for the postseason. What does this mean for the NL's best team?

Baseball Today

Peter Gammons talks to Mike and Mike about the loss of Pedro and how he thinks the N.L. Central will shake out.
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El Duque matched his season high with nine strikeouts, pitching
the Mets over the Atlanta Braves 7-4 Thursday night and stopping
the Mets' four-game losing streak.

During a news conference in the fourth inning, the Mets said
Martinez will miss the postseason because of a torn tendon in his
left calf muscle. Hernandez, 9-3 in postseason play, will now pitch
the opener at Shea Stadium next week and Tom Glavine will go in
Game 2.

"It is what it is. There's nothing much we can do about it,"
Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "It's very unfortunate, but we
have to move on."

Hernandez (11-11) allowed only an unearned run, three hits and
five walks in five innings, pitching in his usual deliberate
manner: throwing only 61 of 102 pitches for strikes.

"He pitched well. He walked a few guys, but he's looking
sharper and sharper every time he goes out there," Mets manager
Willie Randolph said.

El Duque is 9-7 since the Mets acquired him from Arizona on May
24, and has a 1.69 earned-run average in his last five starts, allowing seven
earned runs in 37 1/3 innings. He dedicated this game to a friend
in New York, Rafael Morales, who died Thursday.

"Now I can think about the playoffs. I feel prepared for it,"
Hernandez said through teammate Julio Franco, who translated. "I
don't feel good because Pedro is hurt, but I'll assume the

Hernandez improved to 4-0 at Turner Field, where he has won
three regular-season starts, giving up one earned run in 20 innings
with 23 strikeouts. He also won Game 1 of the 1999 World Series for
the Yankees at Atlanta, giving up one run and striking out 10 in
seven innings.

"I throw the same everywhere I pitch," Hernandez said.

Carlos Delgado drove in four runs and Carlos Beltran hit his
41st homer, tying the Mets record set by Todd Hundley in 1996. New
York had lost seven of eight coming in and was outscored 25-1 in
the first two games of the series.

Kyle Davies (3-7) gave up five runs -- four earned -- five hits
and six walks in 3 1/3 innings, leaving his ERA at 8.38.

Andruw Jones hit his 41st homer in the ninth, a drive off Billy
Wagner that gave him 128 RBI, matching his career high. The Braves
put two on before Wagner ended the game by throwing a called third
strike past Willy Aybar.

With the loss, the Braves (77-82) ensured a below .500 finish
for the first time since 1990 -- when they went 65-97 in the last
season before their streak of 14 straight division titles began.

"I can't say it was a wasted season, whether we went to .500 or
not. We know now how other guys feel who never make the playoffs,"
Atlanta first baseman Adam LaRoche said.

They finish at home with three games against Houston, which
trails NL Central-leading St. Louis by a half-game.

"I will look at it as a team that went through some tough
times," Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur. "We still have a shot
to ruin the Astros chances. It's going to be fun."

Braves manager Bobby Cox and catcher Brian McCann were ejected
in the third inning for arguing with plate umpire Joe West after he
called a ball on Davies when he went to his mouth while pitching to
Delgado, who then walked.

New York built a 6-0 lead on Delgado's three-run double in the
first, Paul Lo Duca's RBI single in the second, Delgado's RBI
double in the fourth and Jose Reyes' run-scoring single off Peter
Moylan in the fifth.

Atlanta got its first run in the fifth on a throwing error by
third baseman David Wright.

Game notes
Beltran tied Mets records with 80 extra-base hits (Howard
Johnson, 1989) and 123 runs (Edgardo Alfonzo, 1999). ... OF Cliff
Floyd went to New York to get a cortisone shot for his sore left
ankle. He will meet the Mets in Washington on Friday when they
close the regular season against the Nationals.