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ATL@NYM: Duda hits his second homer of the game

NEW YORK -- The Lucas Duda Showcase ran throughout Spring Training, typically drawing an audience. Each morning, Duda's teammates would trek to wherever he was hitting, curious to see how far his next batting-practice home run might go. Off a palm tree? Off a golf cart? Nothing seemed out of the question for Duda, whose manager once dubbed him a "big ox," meaning it as a compliment.

Of particular interest to Terry Collins were the balls that Duda would hit on Field 7, the practice diamond modeled after Citi Field. At least once or twice during most of those sessions, Duda would deposit a ball between the old chain-link outfield fence and the new one, which the Mets installed over the winter to mimic the dimension changes in Flushing.

He might as well have been hitting on Field 7 Saturday, when one of Duda's two home runs landed between the old and new fences in right-center field. The other one would have been out of either version of Citi, leading the Mets to a 4-2 victory over the Braves and a 2-0 record on the season.

"He can hit, there's no question about it," said third baseman David Wright, who also homered. "What he did in Spring Training is not a fluke."

The Mets like to think that what they have done through two games this season is similarly for real. A second straight quality start, three more shutout innings of relief, Kirk Nieuwenhuis' multihit debut and three home runs highlighted Saturday's victory, though none of the above generated more buzz than Duda.

The right fielder's first home run was his longest of the day, clearing the Geico sign in right-center field but falling short of the old, black wall behind it. That solo shot gave the Mets a two-run lead against Braves starter Jair Jurrjens, who threw 102 pitches over 4 1/3 innings.

Two at-bats later, Duda sent his second homer over the corner of the "Mo's Zone" in right, where the wall stands unchanged from last season. Duda considered his first career multihomer game an extension of 2011, when he hit 10 home runs in 64 games after the All-Star break.

"Once you kind of produce a little bit, you get that confidence going," Duda said. "I think it's carried over."

Wright's home run, his first of three hits, also would have cleared Citi's old dimensions, leading to some playful banter between him and Duda -- and leading Jurrjens to lament that "when you fall behind a good hitter like David Wright, it's going to be difficult to get a guy like that out." Even so, Wright was one of many Mets who watched Duda's fourth-inning blast and realized how beneficial the new walls might be. Over the winter, the Mets installed fencing in front of portions of the wall in left, right and right-center field, hoping in particular to help Wright and Jason Bay pad their declining home run totals.

"It's a gorgeous feeling," first baseman Ike Davis said. "It's refreshing to know those line drives that would have been doubles are going out."

So far, the dimensions have managed to help the Mets without hurting them. The only runs that R.A. Dickey gave up Saturday came via Martin Prado's two-run homer, which also cleared the old and new fences. Battling stiff winds that altered the paths of his knuckleballs, Dickey walked four batters and made what he called "two gargantuan mistakes" on two-out walks to Michael Bourn and Jason Heyward. But Dickey lasted six innings, held the Braves to two runs and packaged it all into his 13th consecutive quality start dating back to last season.

After the bullpen trio of Bobby Parnell, Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco recorded the final nine outs to keep the relief corps perfect -- seven scoreless relief innings and counting -- Dickey joined the chorus in praising Duda. Wright told of a player who looked "overmatched" when he first made it to the Majors in 2010, before maturing into a productive big league hitter last summer. Davis recalled first meeting Duda in college and thinking little of the USC first baseman.

"The guy had stupid power," Davis said. "But he didn't do it in the games. Now, he's obviously doing it in the games."

And so are the Mets, suddenly 2-0 for the first time in three years. Heavy favorites to finish last in the National League East coming into the season, the Mets have outpitched and outplayed the Braves over two games. They understand there are still 160 to go, and yet they also know that two is more than zero.

"We realize we've got a long way to go," Collins said. "A lot of things can happen, as we saw last year and we've seen a lot here. But these guys are Major League Baseball players. They believe in themselves and they play with confidence, and we're not going to let that change."

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