Mets' wild-card lead cut to 1½ games after Braves rally with four-run eighth

ATLANTA -- Another late lead and another bullpen meltdown for the New York Mets.

The Atlanta Braves rallied for four runs in the eighth inning and a 7-6 win Sunday that stalled New York's playoff push.

The Mets fell 1½ games behind Philadelphia in the NL East. The Phillies beat Florida 5-2. New York's edge in the wild-card race was cut to 1½ games by Milwaukee, which beat Cincinnati 8-1.

Down 4-3, Atlanta struck in the eighth against Scott Schoeneweis (2-5) and three Mets relievers. It was the latest collapse for a beleaguered bullpen missing injured closer Billy Wagner. The relievers have a league-high 16 blown saves since the All-Star break, the worst in the NL. Schoeneweis has lost three games since Aug. 26 and the relievers have a woeful 2-8 record since Aug. 11.

"It's kind of a shocking thing. No explanation. Our starting pitchers and offense have carried us," Schoeneweis said. "If not for them we would not be close to where we are. At some point we've got to hope it turns around late in the game."

Carlos Delgado hit a two-run homer, his 37th, in the Mets ninth off Mike Gonzalez. But the left-hander with the unusual rocking motion struck out the next two batters for his 13th save in 15 chances.

The Mets lost two of three in the series against their longtime nemesis, and now head back to Shea Stadium for their final seven games.

"We just weren't able to execute pitches," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. "We got to close the deal at home. Five or six straight wins is what we need."

Atlanta once again got in the Mets' way to reach the postseason. The Braves were 8-1 against New York this year at Turner Field; Philadelphia went 9-0 at the ballpark.

Schoeneweis retired the first batter in the eighth, then Omar Infante doubled. Casey Kotchman tied it with a checked-swing, bloop single.

"There's nothing you can do about it," said Schoeneweis. "It's just tough to feel like you let down a lot of guys."

Joe Smith relieved and Jeff Francoeur hit an RBI triple for a 5-4 lead. Pedro Feliciano pitched next, and got one out before issuing an intentional walk. That brought on Aaron Heilman and, after another intentional walk, Martin Prado delivered a two-run double.

"I got ahead of Francoeur 1-2 and he got me. I was trying to go off the plate and got a fast ball middle in," said Smith, who said he felt good "until he hit it."

Jorge Julio (3-0) got the win with a scoreless eighth.

The Mets, 4-6 in their last 10 games, had won the opener of the three-game series 9-5 on Friday night before losing 4-2 Saturday night.

After an embarrassing collapse last year in which they failed to hold a seven-game lead with 17 remaining, the Mets held onto first place just one day before giving it back to Philadelphia this weekend.

"That was a difficult thing," said Manuel. "Hopefully it was a growing experience. It was painful. We'll know in the next six or seven games whether we grew or shrunk."

Despite their success against the Mets, the Braves feel New York and Philadelphia will be in the postseason.

"I think both teams will make it into the playoffs. Whichever one doesn't win the division, will win the wild card," said Braves catcher Brian McCann.

The Mets took a 4-1 lead in the second on David Wright's 32nd home run. Wright connected after pitcher Mike Pelfrey drew a walk from Atlanta starter James Parr.

New York scored a pair of runs in the first on an RBI double by Delgado and a bases-loaded walk to Luis Castillo.

Infante was hit with a pitch with the bases loaded in the first inning for the first Brave' run, but Pelfrey got out of the jam by getting Kotchman to hit into an inning-ending double play.

Atlanta added a run in the second on an RBI single by pinch-hitter Ruben Gotay and got within 4-3 in the seventh on a sacrifice fly by Prado.

Game notes
Delgado's first-inning double was the 2,000th hit of his career. He finished 4-for-5. ... Jones did not start for the second straight game because of tendinitis in his right shoulder. He drew an intentional walk in the eighth as a pinch-hitter. ... Mets RHP John Maine (sore shoulder) will throw a simulated session on Monday. He threw 24 pitches in a similar session on Saturday. ... Mets INF Damion Easley, who injured his right hamstring on Sept. 13, played for the first time since and pinch-hit in the ninth, striking out to end the game. ... Atlanta 2B Kelly Johnson extended his hitting streak to a career-high 19 games.