Mets take opener from Braves

Pedro, Mets sneak past Braves, Smoltz

ATLANTA -- Paul Lo Duca knew a little. Carlos Delgado knew less. And Jose Reyes was the personification of ignorance is bliss -- no clue.

David Wright, more aware of Mets history than any colleague, had some sense of what had happened to the Mets over the years at Turner Field. But some of his information was bad. "We beat 'em here in the playoffs in 2000. Right?"

Wright was wrong.

And for years, the Mets have been wrong in this ballpark. Sometimes they were competitive, sometimes inept. Most times, they were wrong and spectacularly unsuccessful. Turner Field was Waterloo, pugatory and one misshapen Bermuda Triangle for them. Mike Piazza called it "Death Valley for us" when he was here.

But Piazza isn't here anymore, nor is Al Leiter, Edgardo Alfonzo, Robin Ventura, Armando Benitez or the other Francos -- John and Matt. Without naming names, Willie Randolph mentioned that Friday as the Madeover Mets prepared for their first 2006 engagement at The Ted. And he made this point: "How can we be affected by what happened here if we don't know anything about it?"

Then his Mets, blissfully unaware of their history here, didn't repeat it. Free from the straitjacket of knowledge, they produced a memory they may want to retain: they won.

For one night, at least, it was Turnabout Field: Mets 5, Braves 2.

And it was players who knew little of the darkness the Mets have experienced here over the years who made the difference. Pedro Martinez, Wright and Reyes made critical contributions to victory that put the Mets six games in front of the second-place Braves and Phillies by producing their 21st victory in 72 games at The Ted.

Martinez gained his fifth victory in five decisions this season and outpitched John Smoltz (1-2). Wright hit two solo home runs, one against Smoltz, and a sacrifice fly, and Reyes scored two runs and drove in one.

This turnabout was pretty fair play. The Mets had more hits (11-6), more total bases (20-10) and one fewer error (0-1) They had more walks (4-1), more stolen bases (2-0), more Pedro and more ummmph.

"This must have been one of the best games they've -- we've -- played here," said Billy Wagner, who had one more save than the whole Braves staff.

It's not as though the Mets were winless here before Martinez, Reyes and Wright gang-tackled Smoltz and beat up the boys from Chop House on Friday. Why just last April 10, Martinez had outpitched Smoltz. But that victory, Randolph's first, was an isolated success. The Mets lost their other eight games here.

But even those stumbles aren't the ones that established Turner Field as polar opposite to Disney World -- "the Unhappiest Place on Earth" (Lenny Harris, 1998). It was the losses in '98 and '99 and 2000 and '01 -- when the Mets were talented and competitive that felt like kicks to the stomach. When their overall fortunes subsequently faded, losses at Turner didn't sting so much.

But now the Mets have aspirations that include unseating the Braves, so what they aren't desensitized as they were in 2002-04. And they have noticed that there is no room on the overhang in left field here for another flag -- there is one for each season with a championship for the Braves teams of Atlanta -- and they'd like to save the Turner engineers the trouble of rearranging them.

So they came and played well, which is easier to do with Martinez pitching with a lead for five innings and not too difficult when the evidence of offense from the Braves is a two-run home run by Chipper Jones in the fifth.

But it hardly was easy. The Braves made an evening imported from San Diego a tad sweaty when they loaded the bases in the ninth. Wagner wasn't lights out -- two singles and a hit batsman. He had to face his occasional Phillies batterymate, Todd Pratt, for the last out. And can you imagine if Pratt, who had endured all the Mets' Turner heartache from 1997 through July, 2001, had done Friday night what Barry Bonds did Wednesday?

Catchers know their former pitchers. Pratt has 15 hits in 28 career at-bats against former Mets teammates Leiter, Masato Yoshii and Armando Benitez. Pratt knows Wagner, though not well enough. Slider, slider, fastball equaled the 27th out. But could you imagine.

"Never came into my mind," Wagner said.

It might have if he had played here as a Met in 1998.

But this clearly is different. Martinez helped overcome the Curse of the Bambino. What is Turner Field in comparison?

Martinez became the first Mets pitcher since Frank Viola in 1990 to win his first five starts. Viola won his first seven. He beat Smoltz for the third time in five starts over 184 games. Smoltz beat him the other two times. He won by allowing four hits and walk and striking out five -- to Smoltz's 10. Each pitched seven innings.

Martinez won by holding Jeff Francouer close enough to first base in the seventh inning so that Lo Duca could thwart Francouer's stolen base attempt with a perfectly-placed throw.

Martinez won because each outfielder -- Xavier Nady (difficult), Endy Chavez (dazzling) and Cliff Floyd (determined) made special plays behind him.

And Martinez won because Wright and Reyes, Lo Duca and Delgado, and Wagner and Nady pooled their ignorance of Turner Field and played as if there were no yesterday.

But there is a tomorrow. And the Mets do recall last week. They won the first game against the Braves at Shea and lost the next two. But this isn't Shea.

Marty Noble is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.