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Zack Wheeler gets 14-hit support to beat Braves for fourth win

Starting pitcher Zack Wheeler of the New York

Starting pitcher Zack Wheeler of the New York Mets delivers against the Atlanta Braves. (July 25, 2013) Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

There is enough of this 2013 Mets season in the bank to recognize that they're not postseason contenders. Not right now.

Yet there's a strong sense among the players in their clubhouse that their 45-53 record does not reflect the team they are today.

And the more the wins pile up, the more they continue to make their case.

The latest example of these rejuvenated Mets came Thursday afternoon in the form of a 7-4 win over the NL East-leading Braves, giving them a split of the four-game series and their fifth win in eight games.

John Buck drove in three runs and Daniel Murphy and Marlon Byrd each contributed three of the Mets' 14 hits. The offensive outburst came in support of much-ballyhooed rookie Zack Wheeler, who improved to 4-1 after allowing four runs -- three earned -- in six innings.

Beginning with their doubleheader sweep of the Braves June 18, the day Wheeler debuted against the Braves in Atlanta, the Mets have gone 20-13. They hope the switch to winning baseball is a permanent one.

"I do believe there are things that are contagious," manager Terry Collins said. "Everybody wants to get in on the act."

Collins pointed to the walk-off win over the Cubs two days before Wheeler's first start as the Mets' turning point. That also was the day broadcaster Bob Costas poked fun at them for celebrating too much for a losing team, calling it another sign of the "decline of Western civilization."

Yet all the Mets have done since is win games at a .606 clip. "After that game, I think our guys realized it's not over until the last out is made," Collins said.

Wheeler, making his seventh major-league start, pitched adequately enough Thursday, giving the Mets needed length before Friday's day-night doubleheader in Washington.

But when Wheeler walked off the mound after the top of the sixth inning, he was angry at himself for letting a three-run lead evaporate.

Staked to a 4-1 lead after three innings, Wheeler gave up a two-run homer by Dan Uggla in the fourth and a leadoff homer by Freddie Freeman in the sixth that tied the score.

But the Mets didn't let him wallow for long, scoring three runs in the bottom of the sixth to take the lead for good and put him in position for the victory.

Andrew Brown, who entered the game when Eric Young Jr. left with a knee injury, led off with a double and scored on Murphy's single to left.

The Mets received a bit of good fortune when David Wright hit a drive that one-hopped over the leftfield wall and bounced off the railing. It should have been a ground-rule double but was ruled an RBI triple. Video replays showed the ball bounce off the rail above the outfield wall, but the umpires didn't huddle to discuss the play. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was ejected for arguing.

Then, after two strikeouts sandwiched an intentional walk, Buck's double made it 7-4.

"It feels like a different guy every day, not just David, not just Murphy being the guy that gets us the big hit, which was what it kind of was at the beginning," Buck said.

Added Murphy, "It was really nice to get him a win there, because the pitching staff as a whole has really done a great job picking up the offense of late."

David Aardsma, LaTroy Hawkins and Bobby Parnell (20th save) each pitched a scoreless inning behind Wheeler.

Now the Mets face eight games in Washington and Miami, where they are a combined 2-6 this season. This stretch figures to be a good test of whether these new-look Mets are for real. And they know it.

"We dug ourselves quite a hole the first six weeks of the season," Wright said. "Now we have to be better than pretty good from here on out to get back in this thing."

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