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NEW YORK MET-AMORPHOSIS <br> TURNAROUND PUTS TEAM 3 GAMES BEHIND BRAVES

When the New York Mets were hopelessly adrift from the NL East race, it was hard to imagine September being anything but an audition for rookies and a showcase for veterans.

The disappointment of the schedule was a final three-game series in Atlanta that would mean nothing to the Mets.

Look at us now, Bobby Valentine crowed. And the manager was entitled to every proud, boastful emotion after the relentless Mets erased a 6-2 deficit to score an emotionally charged 12-6 win against the Expos.

"For all that was said in May, June, July, and August, when (it was written) we'd go (to Atlanta in September) and it wouldn't mean anything, well, none of those words mean anything right now," Valentine said.

In perhaps the last baseball game at Olympic Stadium, the Mets picked themselves off the hard AstroTurf and catapulted themselves into Turner Field tonight (7:30, TBS) with a three-game sweep.

Anything less would have virtually cut off the Mets' air supply.

Instead, the Mets headed to Atlanta just three games behind the first-place Braves and two behind second-place Philadelphia.

With six combined scoreless innings, five Mets relievers rescued Bruce Chen from an ineffective start.

"There's some kind of weird aura around here," Rick White said after the Mets won their 25th game in their last 31 dating to Aug. 18, when they trailed Atlanta by 13 1/2 games. "Every series we play has been a playoff series, and that's what's making it fun. This is kind of like it was when I came over last year, when any time we were down, we felt we could come back and win the game."

Before Mike Piazza came off the bench, put his sore right thumb around a bat, and delivered a game-breaking three-run double in the ninth, Desi Relaford had hit the shot heard all the way down in Dixie.

Relaford's two-run homer in the eighth off Scott Strickland pulled the Mets out of a 6-5 deficit.

"We're playing for something now," Relaford said. "We needed that extra
confidence to go into Atlanta with some swagger in our walk. We're gonna try and go in there and take care of business."

Subbed in mid-game on a double switch, Relaford also had two of the Mets' club-record 10 doubles in the game. He scored three runs, had three RBIs, and made a tremendous backhand stop and throw from the shortstop's hole to end the eighth.

Piazza could be available to start today if he can throw a ball. Valentine checked on his status numerous times during the game, and was told his catcher could grip a bat and lob back to the pitcher if he had to.

"I was glad to get in the game and contribute a little bit," Piazza said. "This was definitely a huge team win."

Valentine never saw the game's end, ejected after arguing a called third strike in the sixth.

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