Almonte, Stanton Horrid in Eight-Run Eighth

The Mets' inauspicious start was just one of many blunders in a disastrous 11-8 loss to their division rivals at Turner Field in Atlanta. The Braves rallied for eight runs in the eighth off Edwin Almonte and Mike Stanton en route to a four-game series sweep from the Mets - their first since 1965.

With runners on the corners and one out in the first inning, Braves left-hander Horacio Ramirez took a quick peek at first base, where Mets rookie center fielder Jeff Duncan, who had reached on a walk two batters earlier, had a huge lead. Ramirez quickly threw to first baseman Julio Franco, and Duncan started to run towards second. Franco then sent the ball to second baseman Mark DeRosa, and Duncan tried to retreat back before being tagged out by Ramirez. Ramirez glanced at third, made a long throw across the diamond to Vinny Castilla, and caught Jose Reyes, New York's first-year shortstop, in limbo between third and home. Both Duncan and Reyes took off their batting gloves with shocked expressions on their faces and humbly went to their respective positions.

Despite that one inexcusable baserunning blunder in the top of the first, the Mets actually outplayed the Braves through the majority of the game. Starter Al Leiter, in his first start since being activated off the disabled list, retired the first seven hitters he faced and allowed only two earned runs in five innings. He struck out five and showed no ills effects of the fluid drainage from his right knee that had forced him out of the rotation.

His teammates, meanwhile, gave him much run support to work with. Reyes redeemed himself with a two-run double down the left-field foul line in the third that scored Tony Clark and Joe McEwing. Clark and McEwing, batting in the No. 7 and 8 spots in the order, went a combined 3 for 5 with three walks and five runs scored in the game.

The Braves tied the score in the fourth thanks to a Castilla sacrifice fly and an R.B.I. double by the light-hitting Henry Blanco, but the Mets came right back in the fifth. Duncan connected on a two-run single and Ty Wigginton added another run-scoring hit for the 5-2 advantage.

Reliever David Weathers struck Robert Fick on his right kneecap with an errant fastball in the sixth, forcing in Franco, but Graeme Lloyd came in and struck out both Rafael Furcal and DeRosa to end the frame.

Jason Phillips, the red-hot catcher, launched a solo home run off Jung Bong in the eighth to start another beneficial inning. They plated two more runs on a Reyes single and a bases-loaded walk to Duncan for a five-run lead.

Almonte, appearing in only his third game, gave up three consecutive singles to open up the Braves' half of the eighth before being removed by Manager Art Howe. Stanton came in to face pinch-hitter Javy Lopez and immediately gave up a three-run homer, Lopez's 24th this season, to get Atlanta within one run.

Furcal hit a bunt single that Stanton threw into right field, and the speedy shortstop slid safely into third. DeRosa's single then tied the game at 8.

Gary Sheffield flew out to right field for the first out of the inning, but Andruw Jones and pinch-hitter Marcus Giles hit back-to-back singles to give the Braves their first lead of the day. Atlanta rattled off two more runs against the losing pitcher Stanton (2-4) before Lopez struck out to end the attack. Atlanta sent 14 men to the plate against Almonte, Stanton, and Pedro Feliciano in the inning.

Closer John Smoltz was lights out in the ninth, allowing only a two-out single to Gonzalez before Clark popped up for the final out. New York has lost 10 of their last 11 games.

In a season that is quickly going down the drain, the Mets once again showed their fans that hope is fleeting in 2003, and no lead is safe. Their inexperience and lack of consistency led them to the bottom. For now, it seems that is where they will stay.

The Braves scored 11 runs without star outfielder Chipper Jones (wrist), who again spent the day on the bench... Left fielder Cliff Floyd is day-to-day with a sore right knee and a continuing problem with his right Achilles tendon. Floyd came on deck to pinch-hit for Leiter in the sixth, but McEwing grounded into an inning-ending double play... Jorge Velandia was sent down to Norfolk before the game to make room for Leiter on the roster...

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