Delgado's dingers lead way for Mets

Delgado's dingers lead way for Mets

NEW YORK -- With contributions from sources unexpected, the Mets accomplished Sunday what seemingly deserved to be characterized as the unexpected -- they beat up John Smoltz, and they defeated the Braves, too. Neither achievement qualified as a stunning surprise, though two home runs by Carlos Delgado did create a certain sense of startle, not to mention moments of ambivalence for Shea Stadium patrons and the Mets' No. 6 hitter, nee cleanup man.

A power resurgence from Delgado created a storyline as compelling as the 6-3 victory that accompanied it, compelling because renewed production from the bat of the first baseman could make the Mets' 2008 task less challenging, compelling because it essentially came out of nowhere, compelling because Shea's audience was not accommodated when it afforded him a curtain call.

It some ways, the two-run home run understudy catcher Raul Casanova hit against Smoltz surprised Shea less than either of the solo home runs struck by Delgado.

Delgado didn't start Friday night in the first game of the series. Willie Randolph called it a mental health day. And when an at-bat as a pinch-hitter produced a strikeout -- his 38th fruitless at-bat in 42, his season average landed at .195.

Two days later, Delgado produced the 43rd multi-home run game of his career, ending at 65 his streak of at-bats without a homer.

Now, Shea loves a good surprise -- and it wanted to thank the man who provided two in a victory. So the ballpark reached back for a little extra applause as it often has since the days of Gary Carter after Delgado hit one off the scoreboard, against a left-handed pitcher, no less -- Will Ohman. Delgado remained out of sight.

Shea insisted; he resisted, taking a seat in the dugout, smiling like his shortstop teammate Jose Reyes and discussing pitch sequence with David Wright. As the applause diminished, boos were audible. Some portions of Shea evidently were insulted.

Later, the slugger teammates characterize as "proud" explained. He didn't consider his exploits worthy of a curtain call.

"I hit a home run with no one on base in the seventh inning," Delgado said.

The Mets already were leading by two runs when Delgado put Ohman's 2-0 curve into orbit. Delgado didn't see it as critical, or all that meaningful.

Delgado had hit 432 home runs before Sunday. He couldn't know how many curtain calls he had been afforded. He did know he had responded to two -- the one prompted by his fourth home run of the game Sept. 24, 2003, when he was with the Blue Jays, and the one that followed his second home run on Aug. 22, 2006, in his first season with the Mets. It was a grand slam and the 400th home run of his career. And it was hit at Shea.

That response will have to do for now.

Delgado avoided any comment that might have given the impression he hadn't responded because of the fans' treatment of him before Sunday. And his teammates supported him while acknowledging that other receptions and pride might have persuaded Delgado to remain in the dugout.

"He did what he thought he should do," said Carlos Beltran who, two years ago, responded to similar circumstances only after he was pushed from the dugout by Julio Franco. No one pushed Delgado physically or verbally.

"It's his judgment," Wright said. "He's a man." Wright suggested Delgado was "back in their good graces" and added, "I appreciate the fans' support."

A few teammates thought Delgado could have made it easier on himself with a simple wave, but these Mets have grown weary of the daily booing.

"It's up to him," Randolph said.

Home runs were the primary components of the victory that produced a favorable split of the three-game series and an 8-4 home record for a team that didn't prosper at Shea last season. Other elements were more than noteworthy. Casanova had two hits other than his home run, Wright, undone in his three at-bats against Smoltz, delivered the Mets' fifth run with a single against Ohman in the sixth, Ryan Church made a brilliant running catch at the wall in right-center in the seventh, avoiding a collision with Beltran, and the bullpen had another good day, this one preserving the lead given to winning pitcher Nelson Figueroa.

Casanova, who hit six home runs with the Rays last season, hit his first with the Mets in the second inning to provide a 3-0 lead for Figueroa (2-1). It was the first home allowed by Smoltz (3-2) this season and an indication Smoltz wasn't the pitcher who had produced a 0.78 ERA in his first four starts.

The Mets recognized something was wrong. And Smoltz, troubled by his shoulder, said, "I gave them more than I thought I could today."

Smoltz threw 83 pitches in four innings.

Delgado's first home run, the fifth of his career against Smoltz, gave Figueroa a 4-0 lead. But the Mets starter and Joe Smith allowed three runs in the sixth. Wright drove in the run in the bottom of the inning, moments before Church made his ovation-worthy catch.

With a runner on second base and two out, Mark Teixeira hit a fly ball to the wall in right-center off Scott Schoeneweis. Church and Beltran converged at the wall, Church making a running modified basket catch while Beltran slid out of his way.

Beltran was unsure whether he could reach the ball. Church called for it as he reached the track. He limped away because Beltran's slide had pinned his right ankle against the wall. He walked normally after the game. He had made the catch of he day, perhaps the best defensive play of the Mets' first 24 games.

Schoeneweis liked it.

"It's the first time in my career," he said, "that I've had a ball run down out there. Usually, with me, if it's in the air, it's out."

The wind currents had helped Schoeneweis and knocked down a few other well-struck fly balls. But not Delgado's.

"When the big man hits them," Randolph said, "they stay hit."

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