ATLANTA — His teammates had plenty to say about Rick Ankiel’s debut at Turner Field. Ankiel had one word: Perfect.
Tim Hudson pitched six solid innings and Ankiel drove in two runs with his first hit as a Brave, a two-out, two-run single in a three-run first inning that helped Atlanta to a 4-1 victory over the New York Mets on Monday night.
Chipper Jones added a solo home run in the seventh — his eighth — as the Braves, who had lost five of seven and two straight, increased their NL East lead to three games over the idle Philadelphia Phillies.
“We got some big hits in the first inning from Matt Diaz, who kills lefties, and Rick Ankiel got the big hit to get his feet wet in Atlanta. We’re lucky to have him (Ankiel),” Jones said.
“First inning obviously it’s key,” Hudson said. “If Rick doesn’t get that hit, it’s a tie late. It was a huge hit and a great start for his Turner Field debut.”
How did he feel after getting the hit?
“Perfect,” Ankiel said. “It was good to get the first one out of the way.”
It was the start of a seven-game homestand for the Braves who will play 13 of their next 16 games at home where they own the best record in the majors at 35-13.
The Mets lost their second straight and 10th in 14, and have won only six of their last 23 games.
Hudson (12-5) allowed six hits, one run, walked three and struck out three. It was his third straight win. The right-hander has allowed two earned runs in his last 20 2-3 innings and lowered his ERA to 2.36.
“It was a huge win. You never want to have a skid for too long,” Hudson said. “I didn’t change my game plan ( with the three-run lead). It starts with the starting pitcher. You have to set the tone early.”
The Mets’ run came in the fifth inning on a run-scoring double by Carlos Beltran, scoring Jose Reyes, who had singled.
Johan Santana (8-6), who was coming off one of his worst starts when he gave up a career-high 13 hits and seven earned runs in 5 2-3 innings in an 8-7 loss to St. Louis last Thursday, settled down after the first.
The left-hander gave up nine hits, four runs, walked two and had a season-high 11 strikeouts in seven innings.
“That was a tough one. We have to win here. We need to get close to these guys,” Santana said. With the loss, the Mets fell 71/2 games behind Atlanta.
“They score three runs in the first, and that was pretty much the whole ball game,” he said. “We knew he (Hudson) would be a tough challenge. He threw the right pitch at the right time to get out of those innings.”
The Mets left eight runners on through five innings. Hudson’s only 1-2-3 inning was the sixth.
Ankiel’s big hit — a line drive single to center with the bases loaded — scored Diaz, who had a run-scoring double, and Alex
Gonzalez, who reached on a fielder’s choice. Ankiel was acquired Saturday in a five-player deal with Kansas City and went 0 for 3 in his Atlanta debut on Sunday, a 2-1 loss at Cincinnati. He added a double in the sixth on Monday and finished 2 for 4.
Billy Wagner pitched a scoreless ninth for the Braves to earn his 25th save in 30 opportunities.