Omen Seekers Revel in Piazza's 3 Run Blast To Topple Braves, 6-3

Back in the old days, the Etruscans knew very specific means of divination. In their beliefs the signs they read were sent to them by a mythical boy called Tages, who in their mythology was to have been ploughed up from the earth.

They would seek to read the future by examining the entrails of sacrificial animals, the liver being of special importance for that purpose. They would observe lighting and interpret its meanings. And they would try and put meaning to any unusual phenomena which occured.

Fortunately, Archie Bunker's Army only has to observe last night's results to recognise that the second half of the season has started better than the first half did and allow all good omens of second half fortune to prevail.

After a disappointing first half of what will likely be his last season as a Met, Mike Piazza started the second half off with a majestic three-run, game-winning homerun in the 8th inning at Shea to lead the Mets to a 6-3 victory over the hated Braves.

"This is definitely a good start to the second half," Piazza massively understated. "It felt good to get a key hit. I know I'm not hitting .350 or anything, but I'm swinging the bat well."

The homer was Piazza's 388th, one behind Johnny Bench for 46th on the career list, and gave him 1,200 career RBIs.

Joining Piazza on the hit parade was Carlos Beltran who went career-high 4 for 4 on the night to extend his hitting streak left off from the first half, to 6 games. The expectation of course, is that if Piazza and Beltran get hot in the second half of the season, the rest will take care of itself.

And whilst you could say a mouthful of hopeful about Piazza and Beltran, David Wright, 5 for 31 leading up to the first half break and a piece of "the rest", another cornerstone of the future's foundation, had one of his busiest night's as a Met with a leadoff homer in the second inning to give the Mets a 1-0 lead and a solo homer in the 4th to give the Mets a 2-1 lead, which made him 7 for 10 with four homers this season against Braves starter Horacio Ramirez.

In the 7th inning however, he booted a ground ball hit by Johnny Estrada and then threw it wildly to first base causing Mets starter Kris Benson to rattle and then surrender Adam LaRoche's two-run homer that erased the Mets' one-run lead and put them into a one-run hole. It was Wright's 16th error of the season which means even with his two-homer game, he still has more errors than homers this season. The learning curve is wide.

He led off the bottom of the 7th by being wisely walked by Ramirez and was later driven in on a pinch hit single by Jose Offerman.

Then in the 8th, with one out and runners at first and third, Wright made a diving grab of Kelly Johnson's pop bump, got to his feet and touched third to double off the runner and end the Braves' threat.

Roberto Hernandez (5-2) earned the win in relief of starter Kris Benson with one scoreless inning. Braden Looper pitched a perfect ninth for his 21st save in 25 opportunities.

The rare victory over the Braves was only their third in 10 meetings this season.

Not to be outdone by Piazza, Beltran and Wright, the Only-Met-Who-Didn't-Make-The-All-Star-Team-But-Should-Have, Cliff Floyd, somersaulted his fragile body into the left-field stands to catch Ryan Langerhans' foul fly in the fifth inning. He ran full stride toward the stands and backhanded the ball just as he hit the wall and fell headfirst into an empty section just in front of the stands, a wonderful demonstration of his value this season not only at the plate, but in the field as well.

Starter Kris Benson, who along with Victor Zambrano are both reminders of last season's trade deadline deals as this season's looms ahead, continued to justify his presence on this staff and boost his boast as the Mets number two starter after Pedro. He gave up two earned runs in seven innings last night, posting seven strikeouts with no walks. He did not allow a hit until Pete Orr's grounder slid under a diving Miguel Cairo with one out in the fourth inning and he did not allow a run until Andruw Jones singled home Orr with two outs later in the inning.


The good news couldn't last forever. Tim Hudson and Mike Hampton, who had both been on the Braves' DL (imagine if you will, Pedro and Benson going on the DL at the same time!) are going to rejoin the rotation for this important second-half starting series.

Hudson will face Victor Zambrano Saturday night in his first start since June 14 and Hampton, the tosser who once scurried away on his little rodent legs for the big bucks and "better school system" in Colorado, will oppose Pedro in the series finale.

Tonight however, we have what might be an interesting matchup as two OLD teammates face each other for the first time. John Smoltz (9-5, 2.81 ERA) will face Tom "The Wrong Brave" Glavine (6-7, 4.97 ERA) - Glavine is 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA in two starts against the Braves this season, having surrendered 19 hits and 11 runs in only 11 innings of work which includes a 12 hit, 7 run stinker in a little over four innings of work at Shea earlier this season.


In the More Good News Department, Monster Island Ishii will miss his turn in the rotation. Next Monday's off-day allows the Mets to keep four starters on the preferred every-four-days schedule and to skip Ishii, who has only intensified the pain of losing back-up catcher Jason Phillips. Whilst Ishii has struggled, Phillips has prospered in LA with 39 RBI in the first half of the season which ties him with the New York Yankees' Jorge Posada for the second-most among all Major League catchers.

Ishii demonstrates his difficulty pitching - ouch, no wonder he can't get anyone out!


If Ishii is on his way out, it is interesting to note that Steve Trachsel threw a simulated situation off the mound [Thursday] with some hitters, according to GM Omar. "He threw live from the mound with some hitters. How far away could [he] be? We're looking at least two weeks, early August, for him to come back."

Not that we can imagine such a sharp Trachsel coming back after so many months off but hey, no Ishii no cry.


In other NL East news, the Nats opened their second half with Preston Wilson and a loss to the Milwaukee Brewers after another late-inning meltdown which further demonstrates the growing fatigue in the Nats bullpen and leaves them

Meanwhile the Phillies and their five homers held off the Marlins at home in a 13-7 pasting.

This leaves the Marlins and Mets tied for last 7 games back, the Phillies a half game ahead of them and the Braves still 2 1/2 behind the Nats.

In the wildcard chase, the Mets are now 4 1/2 behind the Braves.

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