New York Mets pitcher Dillon Gee throws a pitch in...

New York Mets pitcher Dillon Gee throws a pitch in the third inning against the Atlanta Braves. (April 17, 2011) Credit: AP

ATLANTA -- At this rate, the Mets probably won't be fighting for a playoff berth in September. But for those wondering what that might look like, Terry Collins managed Sunday's series finale at Turner Field as if he were trying to avoid elimination. Or even win a Game 7.

Collins used not one but two of his starters in relief -- Chris Capuano and R.A. Dickey -- to protect a two-run lead in the Mets' 3-2 victory over the Braves. Josh Thole, promoted to the No. 2 spot in the lineup, had a pair of RBI singles and Buffalo call-up Dillon Gee (1-0) supplied 5 2/3 serviceable innings as the Mets ended their losing streak at seven games.

"We needed it bad today, that's the bottom line," Thole said. "It was a must-win for us. We had to get ourselves off the hook. It was time."

Before the game, Collins made it clear that he planned to pull out all the stops, saying that Capuano and Dickey would be ready for relief duty. D.J. Carrasco was unavailable after starting Saturday's Game 1, and Collins said Pedro Beato and Bobby Parnell also were spent.

It marked the first time the Mets used two starters in relief in the same game since 1997, when Bobby Valentine called on Rick Reed and Brian Bohanon against the Dodgers in L.A.

Collins got into trouble, however, when he finally decided to use a reliever. Jason Heyward drilled Jason Isringhausen's first pitch of the eighth over the centerfield wall to make it 3-2. Isringhausen then walked Brian McCann but picked him off -- by altering his hold time between pitches -- and struck out the next two hitters.

Then Francisco Rodriguez made it interesting. He walked Chipper Jones, and after Alex Gonzalez's sacrifice bunt, he got Matt Young on a groundout and whiffed pinch hitter Brooks Conrad to seal his second save.

"It was a huge game for us, I thought, and we'd used our bullpen to death," Collins said. "It's our biggest win so far, I can tell you that. Hopefully, the guys can take a deep breath now and start playing the way they're capable of playing."

For a change, it was the Mets who took advantage of the other team's mistakes.

In the second inning, Freddie Freeman's RBI single cut the Mets' lead to 2-1, and the Braves loaded the bases with none out on Gonzalez's bloop single to centerfield. But after Young popped up, the Braves tried a two-strike suicide squeeze with pitcher Tommy Hanson up. As Hinske broke for the plate, Hanson flailed on his bunt attempt for strike three, and Thole chased Hinske before tagging him to end the threat.

With that crisis averted, Gee retired 10 of the next 11 before Heyward's leadoff single in the sixth. That's when things got a little weird.

When Gee walked Hinske with two outs, Collins replaced him with Capuano, otherwise known as the Mets' No. 5 starter. Collins later explained that he knew Jones would be coming to the plate as a pinch hitter and he liked the matchup: Jones was 1-for-7 against Capuano with a single, a strikeout and two walks. It worked out, as Jones grounded out to third.

Collins next called on Dickey -- his No. 3 starter -- for the seventh. His only blemish was a one-out single by Young.

"Any game at this point, you don't want to be hyper-dramatic about," Dickey said. "But at the same time, there is a sense of urgency that we need to start turning it around, and I was glad I was able to help with that.

"I don't think that was any comment on the people down there. I just think it was a good opportunity to give them a blow. If you're going to get dressed up, you might as well play."