Rooks play catch-up in win, then dress up

New York Mets starting pitcher Dillon Gee (35) New York Mets starting pitcher Dillon Gee (35) and catcher Josh Thole (30) confer on the mound as the Atlanta Braves had the bases loaded in the fourth inning. (Sept. 18, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

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ATLANTA -- There are very few things the Mets can enjoy as this disappointing season winds down. One was Sunday's 7-5 victory at Turner Field, a stinging blow to their longtime rival that further delayed the Braves' march toward the wild card.

Another was watching the Mets' rookies squeeze into two-piece cheerleader uniforms, custom made with the team's orange NY logo proudly stitched on the front, as part of the annual hazing ritual.

The players got particular enjoyment from watching Lucas Duda trying to fit his 6-4, 255-pound frame into fabric that looked skimpy on Ruben Tejada. On this day, both were happy to oblige.

"Yeah, baby," Jose Reyes yelled to Duda from across the room. "Nice and tight!"

Tejada drove in four runs, including the winner with a two-out single off Johnny Venters in the eighth inning. As for Duda, he smacked a homer off Craig Kimbrel that traveled roughly 420 feet over the centerfield wall in the ninth for some insurance.

"I didn't see it," Duda said. "I was just running. I was glad I hit it."

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It was the first time all season that both Venters and Kimbrel had allowed a run in the same game. Duda's shot was only the second homer off the Braves' rookie closer in 76 appearances. After those feats, how tough could it be to shimmy into a tank top and skirt?

"It makes it a little easier," Duda said.

As for his rare blast off Kimbrel, a virtual lock for NL Rookie of the Year, Duda was his usual reserved self. "It's a day," he said. "You can't really base a whole season on a day."

Words of wisdom from a Met who generally doesn't say much at all. Taking two of three from the Braves, especially at Turner Field, is not going to change the fact that the Mets are headed nowhere but home for October. But rallying from a 5-4 deficit in the eighth inning, against relievers of that caliber, deserves recognition.

"They do stuff that makes you proud to be around them and makes it fun to be around them," Terry Collins said. "They know what a great bullpen the Braves got. But the talk in the dugout was, hey, we can do this."

The Mets got some unexpected help from a wobbly Venters, who threw nine consecutive balls in the process of loading the bases and walking Ronny Paulino on four pitches to tie the score at 5 in the eighth inning. Venters may have walked Tejada, too, if he had given him the chance.

Instead, Tejada took a first-pitch slider for a ball and then punched a 94-mph fastball into shallow rightfield for the go-ahead run. That's confidence. Earlier, in the fourth inning, it was Tejada who gave the Mets a 4-1 lead with a three-run double off Braves starter Brandon Beachy.

During the three-game series, Tejada was 5-for-11 with a double and six RBIs. Eight of Tejada's 32 RBIs this season have come against the Braves.

"For sure, we're not happy with where we're sitting, our record and everything else right now," Collins said. "But without the play of our young players, it would be a lot worse, believe me. Those guys have played absolutely outstanding baseball all summer long and I salute them."

Not everyone. Dillon Gee continued his slow fade into mediocrity by allowing four runs, eight hits and five walks in 4 1/3 innings. After beginning this season 7-0 with a 2.86 ERA through his first 13 starts, Gee is only 5-6 since then with a 5.68 ERA.

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It's also safe to say that Bobby Parnell has failed his closer audition. Used in setup Sunday, he walked two in the eighth and was pulled after giving up a warning-track out to Brian McCann. Manny Acosta got the final four outs, stranding a pair of runners each time, for his second save.

Still there were plenty of positives. Said Duda, "I'm getting more comfortable against big-league pitching."

He couldn't say the same for his postgame outfit for the trip to St. Louis.

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