PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- With a growing chorus of critics trailing his every move, Ruben Tejada broke out in a big way for the Mets on Thursday, and Anthony Recker hit a walk-off three-run homer in a 7-6 win over the Braves.
Tejada finished 3-for-3 with a double, a run scored and an RBI, increasing his Grapefruit League average from .120 to .214. New York led for most of the game as a result, but Justin Upton's two-run double off Scott Rice in the seventh briefly gave the Braves the lead until Recker's big hit ended it.
Entering the game with more defensive errors (four) than hits (three), Tejada's struggles had prompted continued calls for the Mets to sign free agent Stephen Drew, trade for Nick Franklin or Didi Gregorius, or convert Wilmer Flores into a full-time shortstop.
All the while, Terry Collins publicly supported his shortstop. The manager's first real bit of vindication came in the first inning Thursday, when Tejada redirected an Ervin Santana pitch into left field for a single. Two innings later, he doubled off Cory Gearrin and scored on Chris Young's single, before knocking in a run of his own with a single off David Bromberg in the fifth.
Making his Grapefruit League debut, Santana allowed one run in two innings. Atlanta's goal is to have the right-hander join the rotation by the end of the second week of the regular season.
Though the Braves staked Santana to an early lead on B.J. Upton's RBI single and Ernesto Mejia's solo homer in the first, the damage against Mets starter Zack Wheeler would have been worse had Juan Lagares not robbed Justin Upton of an RBI extra-base hit. It was the latest in a string of highlight-reel catches for Lagares, who finished 1-for-2 and departed after being hit on the left shoulder by a pitch in the seventh.
"He's awesome to have behind you," Wheeler said. "He's not scared to go get a ball in the gap, dive, go against the fence, anything. And he has a cannon. We've got a good outfield, that's for sure."
Wheeler lasted 5 1/3 innings, allowing two runs. The Braves drew within one on Ramiro Pena's RBI single off Kyle Farnsworth in the seventh.
Up next: Tentatively scheduled to start Opening Day for the Mets, Dillon Gee will make his penultimate Grapefruit League start Friday in a 1:05 p.m. ET game against the Twins on MLB.TV. The Mets are unlikely to take many other regulars on the five-hour round-trip journey to Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.