Escobar beats his idol

Braves lay down the law vs. Mets

NEW YORK -- Yunel Escobar will hit many more homers before his young career is complete, and some might prove to be much more significant. But it will be tough to top the memories created on Tuesday night, when he took fellow Cuban Orlando Hernandez deep at Shea Stadium.

During his childhood days in Cuba, Escobar played for the same team that had once enjoyed the services of Hernandez, who is known by most simply as El Duque. The two haven't shared many conversations.

But the two-run third-inning homer that Escobar hit off Hernandez in the Braves' 13-5 win over the Mets will certainly be one that both will remember. Fortunately for the Braves infielder, it's one that will always draw fond memories.

"The game was being televised in Cuba, so it was a big thrill," Escobar said, with Braves bench coach Chino Cadahia serving as his interpreter.

Escobar, who defected from Cuba in 2004 and was selected by the Braves in the second round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, has gained many thrills since making his Major League debut on June 2. But so far, none can top this one, which was created by the fact that he conquered a childhood hero.

"As a pitcher, he was one of my idols," said Escobar, who was playing third base for the second consecutive night in place of Chipper Jones, whose strained right oblique muscle will keep him sidelined for an indefinite period.

While Escobar's inexperience has occasionally shown itself defensively, the 24-year-old versatile infielder has proven that he has legitimate offensive skills. Through the first 80 games of his career, he's hit .322 with five homers and a .380 on-base percentage. Four of Escobar's homers have come over the course of the past 20 games that he's played.

"He's some kind of player," said Braves manager Bobby Cox, whose team won for the first time in five tries against the Mets in September.

Buried in a crowded National League Wild Card race, the Braves know they may be playing for nothing more than pride during the remainder of the regular season. At the same time, they'll be looking toward the future, which has certainly become brighter with the emergence of Escobar.

Hernandez, who was 3-0 with a 1.36 ERA in his previous five starts against the Braves, proved to be perfect only in the first inning. He limited potential damage to one run in the second inning. But after beginning the third inning with a walk to Kelly Johnson, he wasn't able to avoid the barrel of Escobar's bat on a 1-0 pitch that was directed over the left-center-field wall.

"It would be a thrill," Cox said. "Not many people can do that."

Having not previously lost to the Braves since first facing them in 1998, Hernandez hadn't incurred a whole lot of damage in his matchups against Cox's teams. But things certainly got ugly for him when he was unable to retire any of the five batters he faced in the six-run fourth inning.

"We haven't had much success against El Duque," said Cox, after his team battered Hernandez for eight earned runs in just three-plus innings. "He just got off his location a little bit."

Jeff Francoeur began the decisive fourth inning with a single. After Andruw Jones was hit with a pitch and Willie Harris drew a walk, Braves starter Buddy Carlyle delivered an RBI single through the right side. Hernandez exited when Johnson followed with a two-run single.

Mets reliever Aaron Sele registered two quick outs before surrendering a three-run homer to Mark Teixeira, who has 39 RBIs in the first 38 games that he's played for the Braves.

"We kept scoring every inning, and that was important, because they had some chances to get it close," said Francoeur, who keyed a three-run eighth inning with a ground-rule two-run double.

Unfortunately for Carlyle, who allowed three earned runs and six hits in 4 1/3 innings, the benefit of a 9-0 lead wasn't enough for him to claim what would have been his second win in six starts. Carlyle surrendered a two-run homer to Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca in a three-run fourth inning, and he exited with one out in the fifth with runners on first and third.

On his way to retiring each of the five batters he faced, Peter Moylan escaped the fifth without any damage. His 1 2/3 scoreless innings allowed him to gain his fifth win of the season.

"Our bullpen, I thought, was just sensational, especially Moylan," Cox said.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.