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Byrd's blast helps Mets edge Braves
NEW YORK -- All Marlon Byrd wanted upon signing with the New York Mets in February was a chance to revive his career. All he's done since then is become the Mets' most valuable player.
Byrd's rebirth continued Tuesday night, when he hit a two-run homer to cap a three-run sixth inning that lifted the Mets to a 5-3 win over the Atlanta Braves in front of 25,863 at Citi Field.
The homer was the career-high 21st of the season for Byrd, who had just one homer in 153 at-bats last season between the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox. He ended 2012 by serving a 50-game suspension for testing positive for Tamoxifen, a performance-enhancing drug banned by Major League Baseball.
In hopes of restoring his reputation and earning an invite to spring training somewhere, Byrd spent last winter in Mexico, where the 35-year-old hit .318 with 16 homers in 220 at-bats for Culiacan. Nobody offered him a deal until the Mets, desperate for any kind of veteran production in a no-name outfield, signed him to a minor league deal on Feb. 1.
"After everything I went through last year -- the suspension, going home, working hard, not sure what was going on, going down to Mexico, coming back, getting a chance with the Mets, trying to make the team -- to sit here now and say I have a career high in homers, it's a blessing," Byrd said.
Byrd's production has surprised everyone, including manager Terry Collins, who figured Byrd would play a part-time role. But Byrd hit 10 homers in the first 2 1/2 months to cement an everyday spot in the middle of the Mets' order.
He's gotten even better during the summer months. Since June 16, a stretch in which the Mets are 34-27, Byrd has hit .310 with 11 homers and 39 RBIs. He is now the Mets' no. 3 hitter with captain David Wright sidelined due to a hamstring injury.
"He's truly, absolutely saved us," Collins said. "I said every good team's got to have a great story and a surprise. And he's it."
Byrd wasn't the only unexpected contributor Tuesday night. Eric Young Jr., whom the Mets acquired from the Rockies in June after he was designated for assignment, scored New York's first run in the first inning and helped preserve the 1-0 lead by making a diving catch to rob Brian McCann of a double to end the sixth.
Young led off the bottom of the soxth by laying down a bunt single. He went to second on Daniel Murphy's single before both players took off on a double steal. McCann's throw to second sailed into center field, and Young scampered home. Three pitches later, Byrd homered to left to extend the Mets' lead to 4-0.
The final seven outs of the game were recorded by Scott Rice, Gonzalez Germen and LaTroy Hawkins, the latter of whom earned his fifth save with a perfect ninth. Rice and Hawkins also made the team as non-roster invitees, while Germen hadn't pitched above Double-A prior to this season.
"The big thing is knowing the abilities that we have and actually producing results," Byrd said of the Mets' unlikely contributors. "If you go out there and don't have results, nobody really cares. But the big thing is we're showing what we're able to do and getting results from it."
The Mets are beginning to anticipate the type of results they got from starting pitcher Zack Wheeler, who earned the win by allowing three runs -- all of which scored after he left the game -- on six hits and three walks while striking out five over 6 2/3 innings.
Wheeler, who was the Mets' top prospect entering the season, is 2-1 in his last four starts with a 3.19 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 31-to-12 over 31 innings.
"I think the more he pitches, obviously, the better he's going to get," Collins said. "He competes, boy. He was furious that he came out when he did."
Wheeler (6-2) was one out away from completing seven shutout innings when the Braves loaded the bases via a hit and two walks. Andrelton Simmons hit a three-run double off Carlos Torres to pull the Braves within a run before Rice retired Freddie Freeman on a fly ball to left.
Ike Davis' long solo homer deep into the second deck in right field provided the Mets an insurance run in the eighth.
"We (had) that one inning where we got right back into it and thought we had a game there," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "But Davis, that solo home run to give a two-run cushion is a little different than a one-run cushion."
Braves starter Brandon Beachy (2-1) allowed four runs (three earned), five hits and no walks with four strikeouts in six innings.
NOTES: The Mets got some downbeat, if expected, news regarding two starting pitchers. RHP Jeremy Hefner, who is on the disabled list with a partially torn MCL in his right elbow, was told during a visit with Mets medical director David Altchek that he'll likely require Tommy John surgery. RHP Jenrry Mejia, who has been pitching with bone chips in his right elbow and left his start on Saturday night with pain in the elbow, will undergo surgery to remove the chips and other debris within the next week to 10 days. ... The Mets signed RHPs Mitch Talbot and Daryl Thompson and assigned them to Triple-A Las Vegas. ... Braves OF Justin Upton was scratched 15 minutes before first pitch due to a stiff neck. ... Gonzalez said the Braves will activate LHP Paul Maholm from the disabled list Thursday, and Maholm will start against the St. Louis Cardinals. Maholm has been out since July 21 with a left wrist contusion. ... Braves 2B Dan Uggla, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list Aug. 13 and underwent LASIK surgery three days later, took batting practice before the game.