05/04/09 11:56 PM ET
Vazquez unravels late as Braves fall
Mets go deep thrice off righty in sixth and seventh frames
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
What had the makings to be a rather impressive start for Vazquez instead turned into the Beltran homer-fest at Turner Field on Monday night. The veteran center fielder's first multi-homer performance of the season helped the Mets overcome an early deficit and claim a 6-4 win over the Braves.
"It's a tough game," Vazquez said. "I started good and threw some terrible pitches in the last couple of innings."
While dropping the opener of a 10-game stretch that pits them solely against other legitimate National League East contenders, the Braves grabbed an early three-run lead and held onto it until Beltran ended a shutout bid, sparking a four-run sixth inning with the first of his two two-run homers.
"He was perfect through five," Braves manager Bobby Cox said of Vazquez, who had surrendered just one hit entering the sixth inning. "He couldn't have been any more perfect. Just three pitches [cost him]. He probably made five bad pitches all night, and three of them got hit out."
During a five-pitch span in the sixth inning, Vazquez surrendered two-run homers to both Beltran and David Wright. The Braves right-hander had allowed just one homer during his previous 37 innings, and none of those had occurred during his past four starts.
"Good hitters don't miss mistakes," said Vazquez, who was charged with a season-high six earned runs on five hits in 6 2/3 innings. "That's the bottom line."
Following consecutive two-out walks in the third-inning, Vazquez avoided damage by striking out Beltran, who at that point was 0-for-7 with four strikeouts in his career against the Atlanta righty.
But courtesy of two fastballs that made their way over the middle of the plate, Beltran halted that skid. The center fielder, who leads the NL with a .400 batting average, ended Vazquez's night with two outs in the seventh with another homer that found its way over the center-field fence.
During Vazquez's previous start against the Cardinals last Wednesday, he'd surrendered just one run before encountering a four-run sixth inning that was created solely by six singles.
"I never say that I'm in a groove until you finish the game, because that's what happens," Vazquez said. "You might think you're in a groove, and then this happens. I just threw some bad, bad, bad pitches there in some bad locations."
The Braves, who have lost five of the first seven games of this homestand, gained an early advantage with a three-run second inning that was aided with three of the season-high six walks that John Maine would issue in his victorious six-inning effort. But they wouldn't score again until J.J. Putz allowed Chipper Jones to begin the eighth inning with his third homer of the season.
It looked like Maine (2-2) might be destined for an early exit when Jeff Francoeur's second-inning leadoff single was followed with two walks. But following that stretch, for the second successive at-bat, dating back to Sunday's loss to the Astros, Jordan Schafer struck out with the bases loaded.
This marked the start of a third successive three-strikeout performance for Schafer, who leads the NL with 33 strikeouts. Making matters worse, the 22-year-old rookie center fielder has left 10 runners stranded over the past two games.
When the Braves broke camp, they knew that Schafer's aggressive nature might lead to his swing getting longer, like it has been over the course of the past three games. But they certainly didn't envision him hitting .100 (2-for-20) with 10 strikeouts and no RBIs during the first 26 plate appearances of his career with runners in scoring position.
"I've never swung and missed this much in my life," Schafer said. "I really feel like I could go up there blindfolded and hit the ball as much as I have."
Before Jones' homer, the only runs produced by Atlanta came courtesy of David Ross' aggressive slide that prevented Luis Castillo from turning a double play that would have allowed Maine to escape the third inning without any damage.
Affected by the slide, Castillo made an errant throw that allowed two runs to score and prolonged the inning long enough for Yunel Escobar to deliver a broken-bat RBI single.
"It felt like we got out to a big lead, and Javy was rolling," Ross said. "The third time through the lineup, we're getting burned a little bit. It's just frustrating. I know [Vazquez] is frustrated, and we're all frustrated. The feeling was that we were moving right along."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.