NEW YORK – Ben Sheets was long gone by the time this game got interesting.
With the Atlanta Braves trailing the New York Mets by five runs, Frank Francisco walked a pair of batters with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning, then gave up a two-run double to Martin Prado that put the potential tying run on third and the go-ahead run on second.
When Jason Heyward swung and missed at strike three, the slider was in the dirt and rolled under catcher Rob Johnson. Heyward sped up the line, but Johnson's throw just beat him for the final out as the Mets held on for a 6-5 win Sunday night.
"I just love this team because we battled all the way to the end and we came up short," Prado said. "But we tried. We played hard. That's the only thing that matters."
Jonathon Niese pitched six-hit ball over eight innings, and David Wright sparked New York's offense with a pair of doubles against Sheets as the Mets salvaged the finale of a three-game series and sent Atlanta to only its fourth loss in 18 games.
Niese (9-6) matched the second-longest outing of his big league career, allowing one run, striking out six and walking two. He gave up a second-inning homer to Freddie Freeman.
Rookie Josh Edgin walked Chipper Jones on four pitches leading off the ninth, then hit Freeman behind his right shoulder with an 0-1 pitch. Dan Uggla struck out, Brian McCann flied out, and Edgin started Paul Janish off with a called strike before throwing four straight balls and loading the bases.
Pitching on consecutive days for the first time since May 22-23, Francisco fell behind pinch-hitter Juan Francisco 3-0 and threw a called strike before five straight fouls balls and then ball four, forcing in a run. He got behind Michael Bourn 2-0 and walked him on five pitches, forcing in another run.
"They wore me out a little bit, and I'm a little bit out of shape," Frank Francisco said.
Prado's opposite-field, two-run double to right on an 0-2 pitch made it a one-run game, and Bourn was held at third as right fielder Mike Baxter made a clean pickup.
"It would have been really hard to send him there, and you've got the middle of the order up," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez explained.
Jon Rauch came in and got Heyward to swing at a slider in the dirt for strike three. Johnson blocked the ball, then carefully threw on the foul side of the line to first as Heyward approached the bag.
"Needed to skip away a little farther," said Jones, who was watching from the on-deck circle. "Just dug ourselves too big a hole. We gave 'em a scare. That's what you want to see out of your ballclub when you're down like that."
Sheets (4-2) had the poorest of his six outings this season, allowing five runs — four earned — and eight hits in six innings as his ERA rose from 1.41 to 2.13. He had pitched six scoreless innings in beating the Mets on July 15 in his return to the major leagues after a two-year absence.
Leading the Mets with a .325 average, Wright doubled to put New York ahead in the first and scored twice on singles by Ike Davis. Rookie Jordany Valdespin, starting in place of slumping Jason Bay, hit his eighth homer in 140 at-bats this season.
"Think they rolled a couple through, and David got the double. Ike hit a ball," Sheets said. "They got the hits when they needed to."
NOTES: Braves RHP Tommy Hanson, on the DL with a strained lower back since July 31, allowed three hits in five scoreless innings and struck out five for Triple-A Gwinnett against Louisville. With Atlanta playing its third game in a stretch of 19 in a row without a day off, Gonzalez is thinking about possibly going to a six-man rotation for a short stretch.