PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- With a growing chorus of critics trailing his every move, Ruben Tejada broke out in a big way for the Mets on Thursday, and Anthony Recker hit a walk-off three-run homer in a 7-6 win over the Braves.
Tejada finished 3-for-3 with a double, a run scored and an RBI, increasing his Grapefruit League average from .120 to .214. New York led for most of the game as a result, but Justin Upton's two-run double off Scott Rice in the seventh briefly gave the Braves the lead until Recker's big hit ended it.
Entering the game with more defensive errors (four) than hits (three), Tejada's struggles had prompted continued calls for the Mets to sign free agent Stephen Drew, trade for Nick Franklin or Didi Gregorius, or convert Wilmer Flores into a full-time shortstop.
All the while, Terry Collins publicly supported his shortstop. The manager's first real bit of vindication came in the first inning Thursday, when Tejada redirected an Ervin Santana pitch into left field for a single. Two innings later, he doubled off Cory Gearrin and scored on Chris Young's single, before knocking in a run of his own with a single off David Bromberg in the fifth.
Making his Grapefruit League debut, Santana allowed one run in two innings. Atlanta's goal is to have the right-hander join the rotation by the end of the second week of the regular season.
"I thought it was a good outing for him," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He hasn't pitched for a while, and he comes into camp a little bit behind. He did a nice job out there. You can tell he is a professional."
Though the Braves staked Santana to an early lead on B.J. Upton's RBI single and Ernesto Mejia's solo homer in the first, the damage against Mets starter Zack Wheeler would have been worse had Juan Lagares not robbed Justin Upton of an RBI extra-base hit. It was the latest in a string of highlight-reel catches for Lagares, who finished 1-for-2 and departed after being hit on the left shoulder by a pitch in the seventh.
"He's awesome to have behind you," Wheeler said. "He's not scared to go get a ball in the gap, dive, go against the fence, anything. And he has a cannon. We've got a good outfield, that's for sure."
Wheeler lasted 5 1/3 innings, allowing two runs. The Braves drew within one on Ramiro Pena's RBI single off Kyle Farnsworth in the seventh.
Up next: One split-squad team will host the Tigers on Friday afternoon at 1:05 ET on MLB.TV, while the other plays the Orioles in Sarasota, Fla., at 1:05. Julio Teheran will oppose Justin Verlander in a matchup of Opening Day starters at Disney. Gonzalez has indicated he plans to officially announce Teheran as his Opening Day starter on Friday. Gus Schlosser will start for the split-squad team that will play the Orioles. Schlosser is bidding to begin the season in Atlanta's rotation or bullpen.