NEW YORK — The Atlanta Braves came into Shea Stadium still bearing the aura of 14 consecutive NL East Division titles. But they have not beaten Carlos Delgado 14 straight years. They have not beaten Pedro Martinez 14 straight years.
And if the early returns are accurate, the Braves might not make it to 15 years. But nothing the Mets did in mounting their best start in team history would matter if they could not prove it against the Braves.
The curtain calls and celebrations of April continued as the Mets beat the Braves, 4-3, giving Martinez his 200th win.
And in standing up to the Braves in their first meeting of the season, the Mets extended their own division lead to five games — doing so in just 12 games, the fastest that any team has reached that big a lead in baseball history.
By the time the strains of “Enter Sandman” began to float through Shea Stadium, the Mets already had put on a convincing display that the wins over the likes of the Nationals and Marlins were no illusion.
Martinez was not at his best, but still improved to 3-0 in a season in which there was some doubt he would even be pitching in April. Delgado continued to pound away, driving his fifth home run of the season to the base of the scoreboard in right field to push the Mets in front. And as the song suggested, Billy Wagner put the finishing touches on the Braves.
And the belief that this year it might be different continued to float through Flushing.
“In the years I’ve been here, sure,” Tom Glavine said before the game when asked if this was the best shot. “We haven’t had a team that’s been this good. Certainly, we’ve felt like we had a good team, and we’ve certainly gone out and so far and shown that we’re a good team.
“It’s something we need to continue to do and not try to do anything more or any different because we’re playing the Braves. It’s still April. These games are important because they’re within our own division and every game within our own division is important. But having said that, we’ll just try to win the series.”
The one sour note for the Mets came in the fourth inning when Cliff Floyd doubled and scored on a single by Xavier Nady. But after he scored, he left the game with a strained ribcage muscle and is listed as day-to-day. He joins Carlos Beltran, who already has missed two straight games with a strained right hamstring.
Delgado entered the game 12 for 25 lifetime with six home runs against Braves starter Jorge Sosa, and it showed yesterday as he singled his first at-bat and then blasted a 410-foot, two-run homer in the third inning.
When he came up to the plate in the fifth inning with runners on first and second and none out, Braves manager Bobby Cox was through trying to beat the odds and pulled Sosa out of the game.
Chuck James came on and struck out Delgado to get out of the inning without any damage. But Sosa already had been roughed up enough, surrendering four runs and eight hits, not exactly the sort of work that Braves starters have done to the Mets over the years.
Martinez hardly had his best stuff for the Mets, laboring through 108 pitches in six innings of work, surrendering three runs on six hits. But the positives were that he was able to toss the 108 pitches without a problem after his slow trek through spring training and that he seemed able to make a pitch when he needed to.
With 98 pitches already under his belt, Martinez came back out for the seventh and after retiring Wilson Betemit on a fly to right, he struck out pinch-hitter Brian Jordan on a 90-mph fastball. But when Pete Orr nearly decapitated him on the next pitch with a line drive single through the box, manager Willie Randolph came to the mound and called for Duaner Sanchez.
Martinez left the mound to a huge ovation, pointing to the heaven, then to the fans. Sanchez got through the seventh and the eighth, turning it over to Wagner.