But neither Tom Glavine nor John Smoltz wanted to interfere with the other's pursuit of a milestone victory Thursday night, when the Mets and Braves engaged each other and Glavine's pursuit of 300 wins and Smoltz's quest for 200 wins clearly were at odds.
And in the end, neither could fully embrace the evening's bottom line: the Braves -- and Smoltz's -- handsome 2-1 victory. Glavine had lost, and consequently, had no sense of achievement. Smoltz had succeeded, but his joy was stunted; he had denied a friend in the process. So each was betwixt and between, though Smoltz had the happier mix of emotions.
"This is why we don't like these [matchups]," Glavine said, his voice raising in a tone of annoyance. "If you get what you're hoping for, your buddy ends up [taking] a loss."
Glavine was unsure what face to wear as he prepared for a flight to Miami and another four days of preparing for his 296th victory. If only his friend had reached 200 at the expense of some other team -- and some other pitcher.
"I can't really say I'd be feeling completely great if I'd beaten him," Glavine said.
His teammates breathed similar ambivalence. The Mets had lost another series to the Braves. They had lost a rubber game to them for the third time, lost by a run for the second time, lost in Turner Field for the fourth time -- in six games. But they left as the first-place team in the National League East. And life in first place seldom is difficult to accept.
Their manager was displeased, the standings notwithstanding. Willie Randolph saw a greater need in the Braves to prevail than what he saw in his own team. It ate at him, though not enough that he wanted to elaborate publicly.
"They seemed like they wanted it a little more than we did," Randolph said. "They scratched and clawed."
Randolph thought the Mets could have done more, pushed it, tested the Braves and reminded them who leads the division this season -- and who won it last season.
But on this 54th day of the Mets' season, most eyes focused on the starting pitchers through a prism of all each had done. They played off each other almost as if this game didn't matter in the standings, as it were merely a third episode of John and Tommy's excellent adventure. Even Randolph used the phrase "two of the greats going at it."
And when they did, Smoltz gained the 200th victory of his career in his first run at it, and Glavine fell short in his first attempt to gain the 296th victory of his career.
The third friendly confrontation of the two this season ended as the first two had, with the Braves winning. Smoltz provided seven innings of power pitching, while Glavine's performance in six innings was flawed and touched with misfortune -- evidenced by a ground-ball single that might have been handled by first baseman Carlos Delgado in the first inning, when the Braves scored their first run.
It wasn't only that Smoltz shut down the Mets, though. Their sixth loss in nine games against the Braves this season happened because the Braves outplayed them, making several splendid plays behind their starter and hitting when they had a chance to score.
|"I can't say who I beat for my 200th. John will always remember who he beat for his. In six to eight months, we'll be able to laugh about it, but right now, it's a little tough."|
|-- Tom Glavine|
A sacrifice fly by Jeff Francoeur scored Kelly Johnson in the first inning after Johnson's leadoff single and the non-play by Delgado on Martin Prado's ground ball.
"When it was hit, I expected [Delgado] to make a play," Randolph said, though he hardly characterized the play as critical or pointed a finger.
Nor did the manager fixate on the call of first-base umpire Larry Young, who ruled that Wright didn't check his swing on a 0-2 pitch with the bases loaded and two out in the third.
"That was only one pitch," Randolph said. "We had lots of other chances."
The Mets had one hit in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position, and that hit merely loaded the bases. And for that matter, the Braves were hitless in eight at-bats in those circumstances.
The telling blow on Thursday was a leadoff home run by Matt Diaz in the second.
"Sometimes, good pitches bring bad results," Glavine said, regarding a 2-0 pitch the lefty had expected Diaz to take. "It probably was ball three."
From that point forward, Glavine (5-2) allowed two hits and a walk and retired 14 batters.
Smoltz (7-2) was better for longer, though. He allowed seven hits and no walks while striking out five through seven innings. Rafael Soriano and Bob Wickman (seventh save) pitched the eighth and ninth innings, with Wickman allowing the Mets' run on a leadoff single by Delgado, an error, a walk and an infield out.
Smoltz accomplished in his 440th start what Glavine achieved in 2000 in his 422nd start.
"I can't say who I beat for my 200th," Glavine said with a smile. "John will always remember who he beat for his. In six to eight months, we'll be able to laugh about it, but right now, it's a little tough."
Glavine, whose 200th win was against the Astros and Chris Holt, was sure Smoltz wasn't gloating.
"I'm sure John has mixed feelings about it for the moment," Glavine said. "I don't know how long they will last or if they should last. You're in this to win."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.