NEW YORK — Derrek Lee took one final step, touched home plate and turned to his greeting committee: Melky Cabrera, Omar Infante and Martin Prado, all set to congratulate him on his grand slam.
The three guys now waiting for Lee and his pals — namely Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt — don’t figure to be so friendly.
Lee delivered the huge hit the Braves desperately needed from him, launching a go-ahead slam in the seventh inning that sent Atlanta over the New York Mets 6-3 Sunday for a three-game sweep.
“There’s no secret. These are big games,” Lee said. “This is the best part of baseball.”
Lee’s full-count, two-out shot into the second deck in left field energized the Braves going into their most crucial series of the season.
Leading the wild-card race and trailing the Phillies by three games in the NL East, Atlanta opens a three-game set in Philadelphia on Monday night. Jair Jurrjens, Mike Minor and Tommy Hanson will start for the Braves against Hamels, Halladay and Oswalt.
“We know they’ve lined up their rotation to give us their three best,” Braves pitcher Derek Lowe said.
Fine by Lee and his teammates.
“Philly’s always fun,” Lee said. “East Coast crowds are loud.”
Added catcher Brian McCann: “It’s a playoff atmosphere in Philly in April.”
The Mets gave retiring Atlanta manager Bobby Cox a magnum bottle of wine from Tom Seaver’s vineyard as a farewell gift, then Lee presented him with a key victory.
Lee greeted reliever Manny Acosta with his 11th career slam, and it was an altogether too familiar sight for the Mets. New York has allowed a major league-leading 12 slams this season, yet is the only team in the big leagues that hasn’t hit one.
“That’s unbelievable,” Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. “Not to have one is as unbelievable as giving up 12.”
The Braves got Lee in a trade with the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 18 and the All-Star slugger hadn’t produced the way his new team hoped. He’d hit only one home run for Atlanta before his no-doubt drive made it 6-2.
“I felt OK the last couple of days,” Lee said. “It felt good to get a ball in the air.”
Lowe (14-12) limited the Mets to David Wright’s two-run homer over six innings, and the Braves’ bullpen finished out the victory. Atlanta has won four straight road games after struggling away from Turner Field all year.
Lowe gave up four hits, benefited from three double plays behind him and also legged out a double.
Rookie Craig Kimbrel pitched the ninth for his first big league save. Closer Billy Wagner earned saves in the first two games of the series.
Alex Gonzalez contributed a pair of two-out RBI singles for the Braves.
It was 2-all when Cabrera pinch-hit for Lowe and blooped a leadoff single in the seventh against R.A. Dickey (11-7). Infante singled and Jason Heyward, after showing bunt against lefty reliever Pedro Feliciano, swung away and hit a little grounder that moved up the runners just the same.
An intentional walk to Prado loaded the bases, McCann hit a soft liner for the second out and Manuel summoned Acosta. The righty’s first three pitches were balls and Lee fouled off a 3-2 fastball before connecting on a 94 mph heater for his 18th home run overall.
“He kept challenging him. He had to,” Cox said.
Coming off a career-high 12 strikeouts against Washington in his last outing, Lowe looked more like his sinkerballing self. He retired eight straight batters on grounders in the early innings, and didn’t fan anyone until getting rookie Lucas Duda to open the fifth.
Dickey didn’t exactly fool anyone, even with his knuckleball. He didn’t have a strikeout and never retired more than three hitters in a row.
Wright hit his team-leading 24th home run in the first, ending a 21/2-week drought without an extra-base hit for the Mets’ cleanup man. He sliced a high drive and Heyward stuck out his left hand as he drifted back, ready to brace himself at the right-field wall, but the ball carried over.
Notes: The last team to give up at least 12 grand slams in a season was Baltimore in 2006. ... Mets C Henry Blanco, who played for Cox in Atlanta, presented his former manager with the bottle of wine before the game. The Mets will ship a case to Cox’s home. ... Wright tied Mike Piazza for second on the Mets’ career list with 655 RBIs. Darryl Strawberry leads with 733. ... Kimbrel struck out three. He’s fanned 29 in 14 1-3 innings this year.