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Atlanta closes the gap on the Mets

Braves get the win in New York, 7-3

NEW YORK - The way the Atlanta Braves ganged up on Oliver Perez in the first three innings Tuesday night, it seemed they had finally solved the New York Mets left-hander, who had beaten them three times this season.

"Nah," said Atlanta manager Bobby Cox.

Then he waffled a bit, adding, "We've seen him so much, maybe we learned a little. Who knows? We hit some hard balls that found holes and some not so hard that found holes."

Perez gave up six runs and seven hits in the first three innings and Jeff Francoeur paced a 15-hit attack with four hits including a three-run homer in Atlanta's 7-3 win.

"We attacked him early," Francoeur said. "That was the biggest thing. Other times, we'd be down 2-0, 3-0 and he relaxed. We never jumped out the way we did tonight."

In his first three starts against Atlanta this season, Perez (10-8) had allowed three runs in 20 2-3 innings. He allowed that many in the first two innings Tuesday night.

Matt Diaz hit a solo home run against Perez in the first inning and Francoeur added a three-run shot in the third as the Braves began the three-game series with a sense of urgency. The victory, Atlanta's seventh in 10 games against New York this season, moved the second-place Braves within 3 1/2 games of the Mets in the National League East.

Perez struggled right from the start, needing eight pitches to retire leadoff batter Yunel Escobar in the first inning. Diaz, Atlanta's second batter, then hit Perez's next pitch for a home run. It was the eighth of the season for Diaz and third in his last five games.

In the second, Francoeur doubled with one out and scored on a single by Brian McCann. Then pitcher Buddy Carlyle singled and Escobar doubled for a 3-0 Atlanta lead. Perez retired Diaz for the third out, stranding two runners in scoring position.

But the Braves were back for more an inning later. Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones singled and Francoeur hit his 13th home run of the season to make it 6-0. Perez, usually energetic and exuberant, kicked the dirt disgustedly as he walked off the mound at the end of the inning. He allowed two earned runs or less in 12 of his first 19 starts but was nowhere near that efficient in No. 20.

"When Chipper and Andruw hit bloopers, you can't do anything about that," Perez said. "We tried to change speeds but that wasn't working. You've got to keep the ball down. I threw a lot of pitches that were up."

Mets manager Willie Randolph thought the Braves approach at the plate made the difference.

"I thought they fought him pretty good," he said. "They fouled off a lot of pitches. I didn't think he threw all that bad. Obviously, when they hit home runs, it's location."

Perez gave up six runs and 10 hits in five innings, throwing 109 pitches.

Nobody appreciated the early runs more than Carlyle (7-3), who worked the first five innings.

The journeyman right-hander allowed three runs and six hits in five innings. The Mets nicked him for a run in the fourth when David Wright walked, took third on a single by Carlos Delgado and scored as Moises Alou hit into a double play.

In the fifth, Lastings Milledge opened with a double and scored on a triple by pinch hitter David Newhan. Jose Reyes then bounced out, scoring Newhan.

"It's easier to pitch when you get those early runs," Carlyle said. "I know my role. Try to keep my team in the game every game, give my team a chance to win. If I can do that, I've done my job."

Francoeur went further than that. "He's our MVP, to come and do what he's done," he said.

Four Braves relievers pitched four hitless innings to close out the game.

Chipper Jones opened the Braves seventh against Mets reliever Aaron Sele with a triple off the glove of Milledge in center field and came home as Alou made a diving grab, turning Mark Teixeira's line drive into a sacrifice fly.

NOTES: Mets 3B Wright and SS Reyes let a foul pop by Kelly Johnson drop in the second inning. Perez came back to strike out Johnson. ... Francoeur fell a triple short of the cycle. ... Alou hit into two double plays. ... Braves pinch hitter Scott Thorman doubled off the top of the right field fence in the sixth, missing a home run by inches. ... Martin Prado, just called up from Triple-A Richmond, had a pinch double in the eighth.

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