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METS DEFEAT BRAVES BUT LOSE STAR CATCHER

As badly as the New York Mets needed a victory Friday night, their 3-1 win over the first-place Braves was heavily taxed.

How bad can it get for the Mets? Well, All-Star catcher Mike Piazza could be lost for at least seven to 10 days with a hairline fracture of his left big toe. Piazza fouled a ball off his foot in the third inning at Turner Field, off Braves starter Jason Marquis.

"It's pretty sore right now," Piazza said. "We're going to wait until the swelling goes down, maybe a day or two, and see how it feels. We'll just go day to day," said Piazza, who's not required to wear a protective covering on his toe.

Piazza's injury drained much of the feel-good emotion from a club desperate for a win, having lost seven of eight games. But isn't that the luck of a Steve Trachsel start?

In his best effort this season, Trachsel (2-9) allowed just one run on five hits in seven innings. He got heroic relief from Dennis Cook, who rescued Turk Wendell with the bases loaded by striking out Brian Jordan and retiring B.J. Surhoff on a long drive to right to end the eighth.

It was Trachsel's first victory since April 30 against Houston, a span of eight starts.

"I've been throwing th ball well since I've been back (from a four-start stint in Class AAA Norfolk)," Trachsel said. "I've just got to keep throwing the ball this way. Hopefully, this will be the first of a few (wins)."

"No one deserves it more than him," said Mets manager Bobby Valentine, who praised Trachsel's improved curveball.

The beleaguered Todd Zeile drove in all three Mets runs, including a two-run triple.

And Armando Benitez shook off Javy Lopez's game-winning grand slam Thursday night to get the save.

The victory snapped Atlanta's seven-game winning streak and cut the Mets' deficit in the NL East to 10 games.

After discovering the broken toe in an X-ray, the team did not immediately place Piazza on the disabled list, because there's a possibility he could serve as a designated hitter next weekend in the Bronx against the Yankees.

However, that could change. The Mets will call up a catcher, probably Jason Phillips from Class AA Binghamton, in time for today's game against the Braves. In exchange, Darryl Hamilton will probably be released this afternoon.

Has the Curse of Hamilton befallen the Mets? Hamilton, who had a bitter disagreement about playing time with Valentine before Friday's game, has been plagued by a twice-surgically-repaired left big toe since last year.

After fouling the ball off his toe, Piazza (0 for 2) hopped around a bit, but stayed in the batter's box and flied out to center field. He was replaced by Todd Pratt, who will start behind the plate until Piazza returns to catching.

But as assistant general manager Jim Duquette cautioned: "It'll prevent him from catching for a while," due to the strain on the toe caused by squatting and such.

Piazza's appearance as the starting catcher in the All-Star Game is also in jeopardy -- again. He missed last year's game after being beaned by a Roger Clemens fastball, causing a mild concussion.

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