Hudson, Braves shut out Mets to extend NL East lead to 5

NEW YORK -- Tim Hudson stood in front of his locker in the Atlanta Braves' clubhouse Saturday, his feet bare as he buttoned up his shirt, and tried to argue that he didn't have his best stuff against the New York Mets.

Nobody was buying it.

Hudson allowed four hits over seven innings before turning it over to one of the toughest bullpens in baseball, and the Braves beat New York 4-0 to move five games ahead of their NL East rival with one game left before the All-Star break.

"I feel good about my start today," Hudson said. "I didn't feel great, but it was just one of those days where it bobbed and weaved."

Omar Infante, the Braves' jack-of-all trades All-Star, had three hits and drove in a run after getting four hits in the series opener, while Hudson (9-4) helped himself with a pair of hits that included an RBI double during a four-run fifth inning.

It all added up to Atlanta's fourth straight win, and a chance to sweep the series Sunday after losing three straight at Citi Field in late April. The Mets have lost back-to-back series at home for the first time since their first two of the season against Florida and Washington.

"They're all important. The last one was important, the next one is important," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "It's good to be in first place going into the break."

As if losing ground in the division wasn't bad enough, the Mets also lost Jose Reyes after he made a difficult fielding play in the seventh inning.

The All-Star shortstop hurt himself ranging to his right to grab a grounder by Troy Glaus and making a long throw to first base. Reyes has been hampered by a sore right side that has prevented the switch-hitter from batting left-handed the last few games.

"It's been bothering me," said Reyes, who will be replaced by the Dodgers' Rafael Furcal at the All-Star game on Tuesday in Anaheim, Calif.

"I tried to play through it," he added. "I think the next couple of days, rest for me I think is going to help a lot."

The Braves got all their offense against Mike Pelfrey (10-4) in the fifth, chasing him with five straight singles to open the inning. Hudson's two-out RBI double off Elmer Dessens made it 4-0, dooming the Mets to their third straight home loss for the first time this season.

"It's not good," said David Wright, who went 0-for-3. "They pitched better than us today, they hit better than us today, they played better defense. They came out and just beat us in every area of the game."

Pelfrey had been dominant through his first 15 starts, enough so that many thought he deserved to be included on the NL All-Star roster. But the big right-hander has been abysmal since, giving up 15 runs over 13 1/3 innings and twice allowing a career-high 12 hits.

All 12 of Atlanta's hits off Pelfrey in this one were singles. He allowed 15 of his 25 batters to reach base and hasn't lasted more than six innings since June 19.

"He's at a low wall right now," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. "The break comes at a good time for him. He'll probably have close to six or seven days off."

The damage could have been even worse against the Braves, who loaded the bases in the second and fourth against Pelfrey but had nothing to show for it. Atlanta left 13 on base.

Angel Pagan had three of the Mets' four hits, and is creating a nice problem for Manuel. He's been swinging one of the team's best bats, but will lose his everyday spot in center field when Carlos Beltran comes off the disabled list after the All-Star break.

Pagan was just about all the offense New York could muster against Hudson, though.

The 34-year-old right-hander has recovered from Tommy John surgery two years ago to re-establish himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball. He's lasted at least seven innings in each of his last seven starts, one of the main reasons he was picked to his first All-Star team since 2004.

"He's had a great first half," Cox said. "I know he's lost a couple of heartbreakers, but he's been great. He's been strong."

Game notes
Mets SS Luis Castillo (bruised right heel) will begin a rehab stint with Class-A St. Lucie on Sunday. RHP John Maine (right shoulder weakness) will begin throwing to hitters next week. ... Braves 3B Chipper Jones (back spasms) started after being a late scratch Friday night. ... Reyes nearly hit Hudson with his bat when he let go while flailing at a pitch in the sixth.