ATLANTA - The Atlanta Braves are alone in first place for the first time in a year.
That's not a surprise to New York Mets manager Willie Randolph.
Kyle Davies pitched 6 2-3 strong innings and the Braves scored two runs in the eighth on three doubles to rally for a 3-2 win over the Mets on Sunday.
"The Braves always come to play tough," Randolph said. "But I'm not concentrating much on the Braves. We have to worry about ourselves. They always play right. You don't waste much time worrying about them."
The win left the Braves (5-1) alone atop the NL East for the first time since April 5, 2006. The Mets moved back into first the next day and led the rest of the season, ending the Braves' streak of division championships at 14.
The Braves rebuilt their bullpen in the offseason, and relief pitching was their big edge Sunday.
New York reliever Aaron Heilman gave up the two runs in the eighth to blow the save after a strong start by Orlando Hernandez. Atlanta's bullpen delivered 2 1-3 scoreless innings, including a perfect ninth by Bob Wickman for his third save.
The Braves were far from right last season, when they finished third in the East - five games under .500 and 18 games behind the Mets.
The Braves swept three games at Philadelphia to open the season and won the last two games of the three-game series with the Mets.
Sunday's win came after some daunting news for Atlanta before the game. Mike Hampton, expected to join the rotation as early as May, suffered a setback in his comeback from elbow surgery when he felt pain in the left elbow while throwing in the bullpen. Hampton will be examined in New York today.
"Maybe the cavalry is here," said Davies with a grin, making it known he wants to take advantage of any opportunity to remain in Atlanta.
"It's almost a double-edged sword," Davies said of Hampton's setback. "You want him to come back because you know he can help the team. And obviously you want to do well in his absence."
Davies was recalled from Triple-A Richmond this week after Lance Cormier, who won the No. 5 job in spring training, suffered a strained right triceps.
Davies gave up four hits and two runs in 6 2-3 innings. He matched his career high with eight strikeouts and walked three.
"He made the day for us," said Braves manager Bobby Cox. "He gets another (start) for sure. He keeps pitching like that, he's going to get a bunch of them."
Even with Davies' strong start, the Mets led 2-1 before Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur hit consecutive RBI doubles in the eighth inning.
Chipper Jones led off the inning with a double to center off Heilman (0-1) and scored one out later on McCann's double to tie the game. Francoeur followed with a hit to right to drive in pinch-runner Brayan Pena.
Heilman said his pitch to Francoeur "certainly was not a quality pitch. ... It was up a little bit."
Francoeur took pride in drilling the pitch to right field, giving him the first reward of his efforts to hit to the opposite field this season.
"Obviously it's huge for us, just from a momentum standpoint," he said. "I think we can compete with the Mets now throughout the year."
The Mets' bullpen had not allowed a run in 13 innings before the Braves broke through in the eighth.
Hernandez gave up only two hits and one run in six innings. He struck out six and walked four.
Rafael Soriano (1-0) got one out for the victory, and Wickman finished up.
Kelly Johnson hit the first pitch from Hernandez about six rows deep into the right-field seats for his second homer.
The Mets answered when Shawn Green and Ramon Castro hit back-to-back homers in the second inning for a 2-1 lead that held until the eighth.
Davies didn't allow another run. He was removed from the game with two outs in the seventh after giving up a single to Moises Alou and a walk to pinch-hitter Julio Franco. Chad Paronto ended the inning when Jose Reyes popped out.
After giving up the homer to Johnson, Hernandez did not allow another hit until Francoeur led off the fifth with a single.
NOTES: Johnson has only three hits, including two homers, as the Braves' new second baseman and leadoff hitter. ... Reyes' fifth-inning triple was his third of the series. ... Davies also had eight strikeouts against Pittsburgh on July 30, 2005. ... Davies and Scott Schoeneweis each were called for balks by home plate umpire Bob Davidson. ... David Wright's eighth-inning single gave him a career-high 18-game hitting streak.
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