for this game

Hernandez justifies Game One nod with win over Braves

Sep 29, 2006 - 2:56 AM ATLANTA (Ticker) -- On the night Orlando Hernandez was tabbed the starter of Game One of the National League Division Series for the New York Mets, the righthander looked like an ace.

Hernandez allowed one unearned run in five innings, Carlos Delgado drove in four runs and Carlos Beltran tied a franchise record by smashing his 41st home run to power the Mets to a 7-4 victory over the Atlanta Braves.

With three-time Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez out for the year with a torn tendon in his left calf, Mets manager Willie Randolph announced before the game that Hernandez would start New York's first playoff game in six years.

The honor bestowed upon Hernandez (11-11) was appropriate as the Cuban defector known as "El Duque" has been the team's best starter, yielding just eight runs - seven earned - and 22 hits in 32 1/3 innings over his previous five outings.

Hernandez, who turns 37 next month, allowed one unearned run and three hits in five innings. He walked five and tied a season high with nine strikeouts.

"Now I can think about the playoffs and talk about the playoffs because I hope this is my last start before the playoffs, and I feel like I'm prepared for it," Hernandez said through interpreter Julio Franco. "I'm ready for it. I think this is a positive way to finish the regular season. Now I can concentrate on the playoffs."

"He's been unbelievable in his last 10 starts," Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca said. "He's been unhittable. He's got a good proven record in the postseason, he's a postseason No. 1 starter."

The Mets got to Braves starter Kyle Davies (3-7) in the first and never looked back. Jose Reyes and Lo Duca opened with walks and advanced on a sacrifice by Beltran, who also reached when catcher Brian McCann bobbled the bunt.

Delgado cleared the bases by smashing a 2-2 offering from Davies into the right-center field gap for a double.

The Mets made it 4-0 in the second on a run-scoring single by Lo Duca and chased Davies in the fourth on an RBI ground-rule double by Delgado.

"It was good for us to play well," Lo Duca said. "We haven't been playing well for 10 or 15 games. It was good to get a win."

"Obviously, we needed some momentum going into the offseason," Mets third basemen David Wright said. "It was good to get some runs. In my mind, this is the first step to having a successful playoff run to finish the regular season strong and with some momentum."

New York entered the game losing seven of their last eight contests.

The offense was more than enough for Hernandez, who threw 61 of 102 pitches for strikes and wiggled out of a jam in every inning but the first.

In the third, Marcus Giles reached on a wild pitch between outs. Chipper Jones laced a single to right and Hernandez walked Andruw Jones to load the bases. But "El Duque" settled down to strike out Brayan Pena to end the threat.

Atlanta plated its only run off Hernandez in the fifth. Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones walked to open the frame and Chipper Jones scored when Wright's errant throw to second on Pena's grounder sailed into right field.

"El Duque pitched a good ballgame and gave us a chance to win," Beltran said. "Every time a starting pitcher pitches well and gives us a chance to keep it close, we have a good chance."

Davies gave up five runs and five hits in 3 1/3 innings. Since coming off the disabled list September 2, the 23-year old righthander is 1-5 with a 13.06 ERA.

Beltran tied Todd Hundley's franchise record by smashing his 41st homer in the sixth to cap the scoring for New York, which snapped a four-game losing streak.

"To me it's a great feeling to have the kind of season I had," Beltran said. "I'm not really into records. I'm looking to try to help the team win and contribute. It's a great feeling just being able to."

Andruw Jones hit his 41st homer leading off the ninth off Billy Wagner. It was his 128th RBI, tying his career high set last season.

With the loss, Atlanta (77-82) assured itself of a losing season for the first time since 1990, the last time it missed the playoffs.

"It's disappointing not to win tonight," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "We had runners in good places and couldn't do it. It's disappointing we're not in first place, that's all."

Atlanta catcher Brian McCann and Cox were ejected by plate umpire Joe West in the top of the third for arguing balls and strikes. It was the 125th ejection of Cox's managerial career, moving him into sole possession of second place on the all-time list behind legendary manager John McGraw (131).

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