Seemingly putting his frustrating Saturday night behind him, Yunel Escobar torched Mets pitching to lead the Braves to a 7-1 victory Sunday and a much-needed series win. Atlanta passed Florida in the NL East standings to take sole possession of second place, but it still sits 6 1/2 games behind first-place Philadelphia.
Escobar went 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs to lead the Braves offense in support of starter Javier Vazquez's strong effort. The Mets' starting pitcher was Fernando Nieve, but the promising young right-hander lasted just one inning after he strained his right quadriceps running out a ground ball in his first at-bat in the top of the second.
Escobar entered the game hitting .343 in July with a slugging percentage of .600. He got the Braves on the board against reliever Tim Redding (1-4) in the bottom half of the inning with a solo home run, his ninth of the year.
The Braves (46-46) took the lead for good in the fourth when Escobar drove in Garret Anderson with a single. Escobar drove in two more runs in the Braves' five-run fifth with a double, which was sandwiched between RBI singles from Martin Prado and Casey Kotchman.
"He had a great day and he's a great player," Vazquez said of his shortstop. "Hopefully he can keep doing that."
Despite the banner night, Escobar continued to avoid speaking to the media, refusing comment after the game.
After not swinging on a called hit-and-run on Saturday, Escobar told reporters seeking a comment on the play, "Come talk to me when I get three hits." The three hits came on Sunday, but the lines of communication remained frayed.
Reporters gathered around Escobar's locker in hopes of talking about his big night. However, the said through translators that he "was not ready to be interviewed." Braves manager Bobby Cox had nothing but praise for Escobar, and even deflected blame from Saturday's botched hit-and-run.
"He has been coming through for us with his glove and his bat," Cox said. "Since we've dropped him down to the fifth and sixth spots in the order, he's been driving tons of guys in."
Vazquez also defended his young teammate, praising his ability to bounce back after a tough game on Saturday.
"Everybody makes mistakes," Vazquez said. "I've seen it especially in younger players. He came out today and forgot all about it and did a great job."
Escobar's offense was more than enough for Vazquez. Former Braves right fielder Jeff Francoeur evened the score at 1 in the third with an RBI single, but that's all the offense the Mets (43-48) would muster.
Vazquez was solid in his first start since July 7, going seven innings and allowing just the one earned run and striking out five. The right-hander missed his final start of the first half with a strained lower abdominal muscle, but he said the injury is no longer bothering him. He improved his personal record on the season to 7-7 while dropping his ERA to 2.86.
"You can see him thinking along the way," said Mets third baseman David Wright, who went 0-for-2 with a strikeout against Vazquez. "He had at-bats when he threw four different pitches for strikes. When he has that kind of stuff and command, it's a long night."
"I felt good," Vazquez said. "It's been a while. I wasn't as sharp as usual early in the game and I didn't locate as well today. Overall, I felt good."
The win gives the Braves a much-needed series win over their division rivals, as they try to keep pace with the surging Phillies. Atlanta has won 11 of its last 17 and has won seven of its last 10 against the NL East.
"Today was a big win," Vazquez said. "We are heading in the right direction. We have to win games in our division, and we've been doing that."
With the Giants coming to town, this week should prove to be a stiff test for a team clinging to postseason aspirations.
"They have a great pitching staff," Cox said. "Top to bottom, it's solid. They do have great pitching and they've been scoring some runs lately."
Adam Rosenberg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less