Escobar collects 4 RBIs as Braves beat banged-up Mets

ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Braves are looking more like contenders. The New York Mets are looking for help.

Yunel Escobar had two of his four RBIs in a five-run fifth inning and the Braves beat New York 7-1 on Sunday night as the Mets lost yet another player to an injury.

"He's been coming through," Braves manager Bobby Cox said of Escobar, who is 8 for 11 with eight RBIs in three games hitting sixth.

Mets starting pitcher Fernando Nieve left the game in the second inning with a strained right quadriceps.

The Braves, who won three of four in the series, moved past Florida into second place in the East, 6 1/2 games behind the surging Phillies.

Escobar hit his ninth homer in the second inning and had a run-scoring single in the fourth to give Atlanta a 2-1 lead. The shortstop delivered a bases-loaded two-run double in the fifth as the Braves stretched the lead to 7-1.

Escobar, who leads the Braves with 52 RBIs, has enjoyed more opportunities to drive in runs since moving down from his previous No. 2 spot to sixth in Cox's lineup. Second baseman Martin Prado now hits second.

"He's come through the entire series with his glove and his bat," Cox said. "He's tough with men on base. After we dropped him down to the fifth and sixth slot, he's driving in a lot of runs."

The fourth-place Mets fell nine games back of NL East-leading Philadelphia, their largest deficit since they were nine games out after play on Sept. 29, 2005, according to STATS LLC.

Braves right-hander Javier Vazquez (7-7) gave up six hits and one run in seven innings. He walked one and struck out five, shutting down New York's paltry offense.

"A great win," Vazquez said. "So far we're heading in the right direction on this homestand."

The Mets are headed in the wrong direction.

Since June 22, the injury-ravaged Mets have lost 15 times in 24 games and have scored just 74 runs, the fewest in the majors. They have scored one run or less in 10 of those games.

Vazquez caught Nieve's high bouncer with his right hand and threw out Nieve on a close play in the second inning. Nieve then fell to the ground, grabbing his leg in obvious pain. He was driven off the field.

"It's tough to take at this point, especially in that area, pitching," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. "We need to stay competitive there."

Manuel had a name ready if the Mets are looking for help in a trade.

"If some young pitcher is ready, that would be fine -- unless [Roy] Halladay or some guy like that wants to come over," Manuel said, drawing laughs.

Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi said this month he would listen to offers for Halladay, the 2003 AL Cy Young Award winner who is 11-3 with a win on Sunday.

Nieve, who has been filling in for John Maine, will fly with the team to Washington, where the Mets play on Monday, and then continue to New York for an MRI.

"It felt pretty bad," Nieve said, adding he sustained the injury before reaching first base. He was still limping after the game.

"I'll see the doctor tomorrow," he said. "It's still sore. ... I was trying to play 100 percent. It just happened."

Nieve joins New York's long injury list.

Gary Sheffield did not play for the second straight game because of cramping in his right hamstring that began Friday night.

The Mets are also without outfielders Carlos Beltran and Fernando Martinez, first baseman Carlos Delgado, shortstop Jose Reyes, and relievers J.J. Putz and Billy Wagner due to injuries.

"Where do we go from here?" Manuel said. "We have to sit down and make some decisions. We talked about that today. We feel like we still can get some things done. ... We'll have to see what's available."

One option for replacing Nieve in rotation is Jonathon Niese, who has not allowed more than two earned runs in any of his last eight starts at Triple-A Buffalo. He pitched seven innings of two-hit, shutout ball Saturday night against Toledo.

Tim Redding (1-4) replaced Nieve and gave up five runs, two earned, on four hits and three walks in three innings.

"I would have liked to see him get up to 75 pitches," Manuel said of Redding, who threw 58 pitches. "Now you're somewhat hesitant about thinking about him as a starter."

Braves reliever Mike Gonzalez, who had been out with tendinitis in his left elbow, made his first appearance since July 9. He retired the Mets in order in the eighth. Rafael Soriano added a perfect ninth.

Game notes
Six Mets pitchers combined for eight walks. ... CF Nate McLouth set a career high with four walks. ... Braves RHP Tim Hudson allowed only one walk in two innings for Class A Myrtle Beach in his first injury rehab assignment since his elbow ligament-replacement surgery last year. Hudson is scheduled to throw three innings on Thursday.