NEW YORK — Kenshin Kawakami outpitched Johan Santana, Brian McCann hit a solo homer and the Atlanta Braves clawed just a bit further into playoff contention with a 3-2 victory over the New York Mets on Thursday night.
Omar Infante and former Mets outfielder Ryan Church also drove in runs for the Braves (64-57), who began the night four games out in the NL wild-card race. They've won nine of their last 12 entering a critical three-game series against fellow playoff contender Florida.
Mets reliever Billy Wagner made his first appearance since Aug. 2, 2008, and struck out two in a perfect eighth inning. His fastball touched 96 mph. The former closer with 385 saves had Tommy John surgery on Sept. 10.
Kawakami (6-9) left the bases loaded in the first and wound up allowing one run and seven hits in seven innings, winning for the first time since July 8. The 34-year-old rookie from Japan has been one of the pleasant surprises for the Braves this season, allowing three runs or fewer in 17 of his past 19 starts.
Peter Moylan gave up an RBI single to Omir Santos in the eighth that made it 3-2, before getting Anderson Hernandez to ground out and leave two runners aboard.
Rafael Soriano worked around a two-out single in the ninth for his 18th save.
Santana (13-9) breezed through two perfect innings to start the game before back-to-back doubles by Adam LaRoche and Infante helped Atlanta take a 2-0 lead. Santana ended up allowing nine hits and three runs in seven erratic innings.
Dominant against just about everyone else, he's 1-5 in eight tries against Atlanta.
New York pulled to 2-1 on singles by Luis Castillo, Daniel Murphy and Cory Sullivan in the third, but McCann quickly restored the lead with his homer in the fourth, a no-doubt drive that landed several rows deep into the porch that overhangs right field.
Santana has surrendered at least three runs in four of his past six starts, not that he's gotten much help from a patchwork offense. The Mets have failed to score more than two runs for him nine times this season, and the All-Star left-hander has never had more than two runs to work with when he's faced the Braves.
His ragged start capped another tough day in what's been a miserable season for New York.
Versatile infield Alex Cora showed up at Citi Field with a cast on his right hand following thumb surgery, and revealed he'll need surgery on his left thumb, too. Then veteran outfielder Gary Sheffield yanked himself from the starting lineup after he was reportedly rebuffed by GM Omar Minaya when inquiring about a contract extension for next season.
Sheffield was on manager Jerry Manuel's original lineup card, and was replaced by Sullivan about 3 hours before the first pitch. The mercurial slugger struck out as a pinch hitter with a runner aboard in the eighth inning.
While the Mets appear content on limping toward the finish, the Braves are mounting a sneak attack on Florida and the rest of the wild-card contenders.
Atlanta is 30-17 since falling a season-worst six games below .500 on June 27, and McCann's homer was the 46th by the Braves since the All-Star break, ranking them among the league leaders. The sterling performance by Kawakami was the Braves' NL-leading 73rd quality start.
NOTES: Braves LF Garret Anderson left the game in the second inning with a lower back strain. He was day to day. ... The Mets released RHP Livan Hernandez to make room for Wagner.