Mets avoid sweep by Braves behind Santana's arm, Davis' bat

NEW YORK -- A gem by Johan Santana and the mere sight of Carlos Beltran gave the New York Mets two reasons Sunday to get excited about the second half.

Santana saved the Mets from a sweep with another spotless outing and rookie Ike Davis hit his latest titanic home run in New York's 3-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves.

The Mets head into the All-Star break four games behind first-place Atlanta in the NL East, with their star center fielder set to come off the disabled list and make his season debut Thursday night in San Francisco.

"It was a big game for us. There was a lot of life on the bench for us that was not there yesterday. There was a nice spirit about the team. Maybe it had something to do with Carlos Beltran walking through the locker room," manager Jerry Manuel said. "It almost feels like you got two players back, Johan and Carlos."

Alex Cora and pinch-hitter Josh Thole delivered two-out RBI singles, and Angel Pagan had three of New York's 13 hits. The Mets also got flawless relief work from Bobby Parnell and Francisco Rodriguez in their major league-best 13th shutout.

Fantastic at Citi Field for most of the first half, New York averted a three-game sweep but finished 2-4 on a disappointing homestand against a pair of division leaders.

"We didn't play very well on this homestand in general," David Wright said. "Really this road trip after the break I think is a great test for us, a big challenge."

The Braves, who had won four straight, still own the league's best record at 52-36.

"It's nice to go into halftime being in first place," manager Bobby Cox said. "I feel really good about that and I'm proud of the club."

After scoring six runs in the previous four games, New York didn't manage much on offense this time, either. Playing without ailing shortstop Jose Reyes and slumping slugger Jason Bay, the Mets stranded 11 runners and grounded into two double plays.

Still, Santana (7-5) and the bullpen made a few clutch hits stand up.

"We didn't want to go into the break the way we played the last few days," Manuel said.

Coming off a three-hit shutout of Cincinnati on Tuesday, when he hit his first major league home run, Santana was brilliant again. He allowed five hits and three walks in seven comfortable innings, striking out five.

Following a two-start skid, the two-time Cy Young Award winner has yielded one run and 14 hits in his past three outings, covering 23 innings.

"I feel much better," Santana said. "Hopefully, this second half will be a strong one."

Rookie shortstop Ruben Tejada, subbing for Reyes, made a diving play to end the seventh with a runner on.

Parnell came on to face the middle of Atlanta's lineup in the eighth and set down Chipper Jones, Troy Glaus and All-Star Brian McCann in order. Rodriguez pitched a perfect ninth for his 21st save in 25 tries.

Pagan tripled to right-center with two outs in the third and scored on Cora's single off Derek Lowe (9-8).

Davis drove a 2-0 pitch to center field leading off the sixth and it soared about 430 feet to the back of the black batter's eye behind the home run apple.

"You don't want to walk the guy and I just threw it down the middle," Lowe said. "I guess you'd say he got a pretty good swing on it."

It was Davis' 11th home run -- and several have carried to rarely reached spots in cavernous Citi Field.

"It was definitely one of my favorites," said Davis, who also won the team's World Cup pool when Spain edged the Netherlands 1-0 for the title. "That's as good as I can hit the ball. You've got to hit 'em to get it out of here."

Lowe was lifted after 5 1/3 innings. He gave up two runs and eight hits, losing his third straight start.

"This is when the fun starts," said Lowe, outpitched by Roy Halladay and Santana in his past two outings. "The first three months you work to get yourself in position to where the last 2 1/2 months really matter. I think we've done that."

Jesus Feliciano singled off Takashi Saito to start the eighth and scored on a single by Thole, who is 9 for 17 (.529) since getting called up from the minors -- including 4 for 5 with three RBIs as a pinch hitter.

Game notes
Bay is 0 for 15 against Lowe and was rested -- on his bobblehead day. Manuel said he thought the slugger has been tired for a while and he wanted him to "exhale" and "start fresh" on the West Coast after the break. Chris Carter started in LF and went 2 for 3 before getting pulled for a pinch runner. ... Mets LHP Oliver Perez (knee) made his third rehab start, tossing 100 pitches over five innings for Triple-A Buffalo. He allowed an unearned run and five walks, with three strikeouts and two wild pitches. ... After the game, Feliciano was optioned to Buffalo to make roster room for Beltran. ... New York went 7 for 51 (.137) with runners in scoring position on the homestand. ... Matt Diaz had two hits and is 14 for 25 (.560) against Santana.