NEW YORK -- Plenty of people doubted whether Nate McLouth would make any impact again for the Braves after being sent to the minors in July. But not McLouth.
The center fielder said he really believed he could come back strong and contribute to the Braves' postseason drive, which is precisely what he's doing. Man, is he ever.
McLouth had an RBI double and a decisive home run in the Braves' 4-2 win against the New York Mets on Saturday. The Braves led the National League wild-card race by 1 1/2 games, pending the outcome of San Francisco's late game Saturday.
"It's very satisfying, especially when every game means so much," said McLouth, who has hit .367 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 12 games since being recalled from Triple-A, with only one strikeout in 30 at-bats.
"If you're going to contribute, this is certainly the time."
Tim Hudson (16-8) snapped a three-start losing streak, and Alex Gonzalez added two doubles and two RBIs for the Braves, who are 2-0 to begin a nine-game trip that includes a highly anticipated series in Philadelphia starting Monday.
The Braves were 2 1/2 games behind streaking Philadelphia in the NL East standings, pending the outcome of the Phillies' game against Washington.
"Nate's just ... I can't say enough about how great he looks," Braves manager Bobby Cox said of McLouth. "It's a huge turnaround. Huge."
Gonzalez had a two-run double off the left-field wall in the fourth inning and had the flashiest defensive play on a day when the Braves helped themselves with better glove work than they have in some recent games.
McLouth's second-inning double gave the Braves a 1-0 lead they never relinquished, and his ninth-inning homer pushed a 3-2 lead to a two-run margin for closer Billy Wagner.
Wagner struck out the side in the ninth against one of his former teams for his 420th save, four shy of John Franco's major league career record for left-handers.
"We've won two games in a row," said Hudson, who allowed two runs and six hits, including homers by Jose Reyes and Luis Hernandez. "We still have a lot of baseball left. It's a tight race. We were just good enough to win today, and just good enough to win is good enough for me."
McLouth has provided some needed pop for a recently lethargic Braves lineup. He has three of their league-low eight homers in September.
In his past nine games, he is 11-for-27 (.407) with three doubles, a triple, three homers and 10 RBIs, and McLouth also had two more would-be homers erased in that period on leaping catches at the center-field wall by Florida's Cameron Maybin and St. Louis' Colby Rasmus.
In his last 23 games before being demoted to the minors, McLouth went 6-for-67 (.092) with one double and one RBI. Nevertheless, he said he believed he could get back to the majors and do what he's doing now.
"Yeah, I definitely did," he said. "It's just a product of, I've really been working hard at swinging at the pitch I want to swing at, and so far I've been putting pretty good swings on them. That's what I'm going to try to continue to do."
His teammates couldn't be happier -- not just because they needed his offense, but also because they hated seeing McLouth struggle so mightily for much of the 2009 season and this year before he was sent down.
"It speaks a lot about him and his character to go down to the minor leagues and get right," catcher Brian McCann said. "He didn't complain, he just went and did it. He came back and he looks like the old Nate McLouth.
"What he does on a baseball field, not many people can do. Play great D and hit for some power."
McLouth also made a terrific over-the-shoulder, running catch in the left-center gap in the seventh inning, after moving to left field late when the Braves brought in center fielder Rick Ankiel for added defense.
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