Former Brave Francoeur haunts Atlanta
Wagner gives up tiebreaking homer in ninth to Mets outfielder
ATLANTA -- As the Braves and Mets traded punches and entered the final stages of their divisional showdown deadlocked, it was apparent that one clutch hit was likely going to prove to be decisive. But there was little reason to believe that the big blow was going to be delivered by someone who had done so little since the All-Star break.
When Jeff Francoeur swung late and fouled Billy Wagner's first-pitch fastball into the stands behind first base, he looked like the same guy who had batted .116 in his previous 43 at-bats since the break. But when he stuck his bat out and powered the outside fastball that followed over the right-field wall, he evoked memories of the days when he used to be cheered at Turner Field for producing these late-inning heroics.
Francoeur's ninth-inning leadoff homer off Wagner proved to be decisive for the Mets in the 3-2 win they claimed Tuesday night over a Braves club that has spent a good portion of the past two weeks fighting to benefit from these kinds of clutch hits.
"It was really, really a good pitch," Wagner said after surrendering a homer for the third time in his past 14 1/3 innings. "If anything I'm [upset] because I threw it so good. It was on the black. He's got pop to leave the field anywhere, and you just have to tip your hat."
After making his way around the bases, Francoeur pointed toward some friends and family members in the stands and then excitedly hopped into the Mets' dugout to celebrate the moment with his teammates. Once considered to be an Atlanta legend, he returned to his hometown and handed his former team its seventh loss in its past 11 games.
"I was floating on air on that one," said Francoeur, who played for the Braves from 2005-09. "I'm not a guy that gets overly excited. But with all my friends and family that were here tonight, to do it against your old team -- and part of that too is just because of how bad I've been struggling and how hard I've been working to try to get out of it. To have a night like that where -- at least for one night -- you feel excited and feel like you contributed was nice."
While seeing their lead over the second-place Phillies in the National League East race reduced to just two games, the Braves once again squandered far too many scoring opportunities. They have hit .167 (18-for-108) with runners in scoring position in their last 11 games. While losing three of their past four, they have recorded six hits in 43 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
"It's frustrating," catcher Brian McCann said. "On the road trip, we had great pitching and great defense. We haven't been swinging the bats like we should with runners in scoring position. We're getting on base. We're just not getting the big hit to get any of our pitchers a lead."
When Francoeur took a bad route and allowed Melky Cabrera's likely single to skip to the right-center-field wall for an RBI triple in the sixth, the Braves had managed to once again gain a lead against R.A. Dickey, who utilized his knuckleball to limit the hosts to two earned runs and five hits over six innings.
"Dickey is hard to hit, I don't care what team you are, the New York Yankees or the Braves or anybody else," manager Bobby Cox said in reference to the hard-luck Mets right-hander, who is 1-3 with a 1.59 ERA in his past five starts.
Making his first appearance for Atlanta since squandering a five-run, eighth-inning lead in the decisive fourth game of the National League Division Series, Kyle Farnsworth managed to make this a short-lived lead. Farnsworth, who was acquired from the Royals Saturday, issued a four-pitch walk to Francoeur and threw just one of his first eight pitches for strikes before allowing Chris Carter to deliver a game-tying RBI single to center.
"He was fine," McCann said of Farnsworth. "Other than missing by a little bit, he was fine. Stuff-wise, he was phenomenal. We're lucky to have him and we're all happy that he's here."
While he was able to escape without any further damage, Farnsworth prevented Derek Lowe from notching just his second win in his past eight starts. Lowe didn't issue a walk for the first time in 25 starts and allowed just one run over six solid innings.
After surrendering Jose Reyes' one-out RBI double, Lowe gained some confidence by concluding the third with consecutive strikeouts of Angel Pagan and Carlos Beltran.
"We just need to score a few more runs," Cox said. "Everything is going great. Pitching has been going great. Defense, everything."
Looking to give Troy Glaus a chance to mentally escape his horrendous slump, Cox decided that Eric Hinske would start the final two games of this series at first base.
Unfortunately, this only set the stage for Hinske to end the third inning with a pair of runners on base and the fifth inning with a bases-loaded strikeout.
Cox inserted Glaus, who has hit .164 in his past 33 games, to face left-hander Pedro Feliciano with runners at first and second and one out in the seventh. This prompted the Mets to call upon former Braves right-hander Manny Acosta, who further ruined Glaus' 34th birthday by getting him to ground into an inning-ending double play.
A short time later, Francoeur showed Glaus that even the most frustrating slumps can be halted at the most unlikely time.
"Jeff did the only thing he could do," McCann said. "The only way he could catch up to that after his first pitch was cheat a little bit, and he got the barrel on the ball."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.