Atlanta's Derrek Lee connects for a seventh-inning grand slam off New York Mets reliever Manny Acosta at Citi Field in New York, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2010.
By David O'Brien
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
NEW YORK -- The Braves seldom have team meetings, especially not the players-only kind. Yet they called one on Friday after stumbling through a home series loss against Washington that put a serious dent in their postseason goals.
After hearing David Ross, Billy Wagner and others say what the team needed to get back on track, the Braves went through the checklist during an impressive weekend sweep of the New York Mets.
Derrek Lee crushed a seventh-inning grand slam Sunday in a 6-3 win at Citi Field, completing the Braves' second road sweep of the season and providing a boost before their much-anticipated showdown at Philadelphia that starts Monday.
"That one felt good," said Lee, who hit a full-count, two-out home run off former Braves reliever Manny Acosta, blasting the pitch to the second seating deck in left field for one of the longest home runs at Citi Field. "I flushed it. It's always nice when you feel it come off the bat like that."
Lee's fifth career grand slam was just his second home run in 27 games for Atlanta. It turned a 2-2 tie into a comfortable lead, and Derek Lowe (14-12) and the Braves used it to take a 2-1/2-game lead in the National League wild-card race.
"You couldn't have asked for anything more when we came in here," said Lowe, allowing six hits and two runs in six innings and winning his third consecutive start. "We knew we needed to play better than we did against Washington in all phases."
They've won four consecutive road games after losing seven of eight, and the Braves now face their toughest test: three games against the streaking, NL East-leading Phillies and their three best starting pitchers.
The Braves remained three games behind the Phillies, who've won seven in a row and 15 of 18 in September.
"It's always good to go in on a winning streak," manager Bobby Cox said.
Cox had a memorable line when asked if he expected a playoff atmosphere this week in Philadelphia.
"This [Mets series] seemed like playoff atmosphere -- in my stomach," he said. "Every game's that way."
Braves rookie Craig Kimbrel admittedly felt that way. He overcame a case of nerves to strike out three of four batters he faced in the ninth inning for his first save.
The Mets jumped to 2-0 lead in the first inning Sunday when David Wright homered after Carlos Beltran's two-out single.
"It wasn't an ideal start, but it was such a long way to go," Lowe said. "We just found a way to get a couple of runs off [Mets starter R.A.] Dickey. Then we did what we've done all year: We scored runs off the other team's bullpen."
After Wright's homer, Lowe recorded 16 outs in the next 18 batters. The Braves played exceptional defense behind him, including a double play started by shortstop Alex Gonzalez after a leadoff walk in the second inning.
Gonzalez had a pair of two-out, run-scoring singles in the second and sixth innings off Dickey (11-7), a knuckleballer charged with 10 hits and four runs in six-plus innings.
Lee doubled and scored on Gonzalez's sixth-inning hit for a 2-2 tie.
Melky Cabrera led off the Braves' seventh with a pinch single and Omar Infante followed with another single off Dickey. After a Jason Heyward groundout, left-hander Pedro Feliciano intentionally walked Martin Prado with first base open. Brian McCann popped out with the bases loaded for the second out.
To face Lee, the Mets brought in Acosta, a pitcher claimed off waivers from the Braves at the end of spring training.
Acosta fell behind in the count 3-0. Lee took a called strike and then fouled off two pitches. Acosta next threw a fastball that Lee drove an estimated 460 feet for his 18th homer, and second since being traded from the Cubs on Aug. 18.
"What he did today was put us on his back," McCann said.
The Atlanta Braves delivered their pitch to real estate developers Friday, formally opening the search for a partner on a proposed $400 million mixed-use development adjacent to a new Cobb County stadium.
Atlanta Braves executives will return to work from their Thanksgiving travels Monday, still thankful for $300 million in public funding for a new stadium but aware that last week’s vote by the Cobb County Commission signaled the start of an unforgiving timetable to get the ballpark built by 2017.