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Updated: Saturday, July 31, 2004 12:32 AM EDT
MLB RECAP
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ATLANTA 3, NY METS 1
 

ATLANTA (Ticker) -- Mike Hampton illustrated on the field what Jim Duquette admitted to off it: As always, the Atlanta Braves have more pitching than the New York Mets .

Hampton allowed just four hits in seven innings as the Braves stopped the wheeling and dealing Mets, 3-1, and widened their lead in the National League East.

The Braves have won an unprecedented 12 straight division titles, often frustrating the Mets with their pitching depth. This year was supposed to be different, as the Braves pared payroll and appeared ripe to be toppled.

Duquette, the general manager of the Mets, made a huge move in that direction Friday, acquiring Kris Benson from Pittsburgh and Victor Zambrano from Tampa Bay in a pair of trades that depleted their farm system but netted a pair of front-line starters.

"All I can compare (the trade) to is all I've had for years in Atlanta," said Mets pitcher and long-time Brave Tom Glavine . "When you're in a race like this and it's imperative day in and day out to come to the park and hopefully have a chance to win, and win a lot, you can't do that without having a deep rotation. The benefits of having a rotation that is four guys deep or five guys deep over the season is huge.

Benson and Zambrano will join the rotation shortly. Until then, there is the small matter of the Braves (56-46), who somehow in a rebuilding year have a 4 1/2-game lead in the National League East and are seven games in front of the Mets.

"(The Braves) know how to win no matter who they put on the field," Mets outfielder Cliff Floyd said. "They have that attitude. Anytime you put them in that position, it's going to be tough. We knew we had to win a lot of games on this trip."

Hampton (7-8) helped Atlanta improve to 19-6 in July. The former Met allowed one run, walked one and struck out six as he improved to 5-0 in the month.

"It's been a while," Hampton said of his hot streak. "The important thing is (the wins came against) the teams that we were facing - the Phillies and the Mets."

The Braves, who were mired in fourth place at the beginning of the month, surged to first by relying on their time-proven formula of quality pitching and timely hitting.

Starters Hampton, Russ Ortiz and Jaret Wright are a combined 13-0 in July. The staff has a major league-best 2.54 ERA in the month to lower their season ERA to a major-league best 3.69.

While the emergence of the staff may come as a surprise, it does not surprise Braves manager Bobby Cox .

"They're supposed to be (good)," Cox said. "We think they're good."

"You can't say enough about our starting pitching," second baseman Marcus Giles said. "Our pitching and everything is just coming around. It's just good baseball. It's fun to be around and fun to play."

The Braves scored all the runs they needed on an RBI single by J.D. Drew in the third and RBI singles by Marcus Giles and Andruw Jones in the fifth to make a loser out of Mets starter Steve Traschel (9-8). Traschel fell to 2-6 lifetime against the Braves at Turner Field.

The Mets were only able to get to Hampton in the third on an RBI groundout by rookie Kaz Matsui.

"They were able to put some hits together in the fifth," Mets manager Art Howe said. "That gave them the lead. We didn't get anything. Give them credit. They played a solid game against us."

Chris Reitsma pitched the eighth and John Smoltz worked around two hits in the ninth for his sixth save in seven nights and 24th this season.


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