The Mets are in full swing, playing their best baseball of the season and establishing their promise against a bona fide team in the playoffs.
They entered a five-game run against the Braves in first place in the NL East, and the Mets will end the series in the same spot after hitting four homers and six outs from Edwin Diaz for a 6-4 victory over the World Series title. champions in front of 38,693 sweaty fans on a wet Thursday night at Citi Field.
Manager Buck Showalter’s club, which advanced 4 ¹/₂ games over Atlanta, won nine of 10 games and began to re-inflate a dwindling division lead.
“It’s a special series. They won the World Series last year and they’re the team behind us,” said Carlos Carrasco, who allowed three runs in six innings. “I think it’s really important to us.”
The Mets (67-38) led the NL East by 10 ¹/₂ games on June 1 before that lead was reduced to half a game on July 23. But since Atlanta threatened their lead, the Mets have been stabilized by great play, dominating Diaz’s work and adding a few players, either through trade or better health.
Receiver James McCann returned to the lineup Thursday, a day after Trevor May returned to the bullpen. Atlanta will face Max Scherzer (Saturday) and Jacob deGrom (Sunday) in good health. And the Braves had a sour taste of the Mets’ recent additions, as left fielder Tyler Naquin hit two home runs in his home opener in Queens, while Daniel Vogelbach hit his second home run in so many days.
“It’s awesome,” said Naquin, who enjoyed Citi Field much more in a Mets uniform. “Damn, even though I’ve been playing here for four years, it’s a good night.
The night didn’t end until Diaz came on surprise in the eighth inning, so badly off that his entrance song “Narco” started playing late, as he warmed up on the mound.
Diaz, having a two-run lead, put the Braves in order in the eighth, then gave up a first single to Eddie Rosario in the ninth. But he got Travis out of Arnaud, knocked out Marcell Ozuna and went inside on Orlando Arcia, whose defensive swing ended in a tap-out to the mound.
Showalter said Diaz’s lengthy layoff — he hadn’t pitched since Friday — was the catalyst for the longest save of his career, but the opponent had to reckon with that as well.
“We’re up against a good team,” said Diaz, who has allowed no points in his last 16 games. “We’re just trying to win and let the fans know we’re really good.”
As if to demonstrate they can score in different ways, the Mets used both short and long ball to grab a lead they didn’t give up.
In the first inning, Starling Marte hit an infield single, moved to second on a walk to Francisco Lindor and scored on Pete Alonso’s RBI single.
Then the Mets turned to the long ball.
Naquin’s first home game as the Met ended in a second-inning home run. Alonso, who went 2-for-3 with three more RBIs to reach 91, got a curve ball by mistake in the third inning and he destroyed it for a two-run homer, his 29th of the year. Four pitches later, Vogelbach, in the lineup against right-handed Braves starter Kyle Wright, smashed a home run to the right.
“I think we knew what [Naquin and Vogelbach] were capable from a background perspective,” Showalter said of the business additions. “I think it became clear a little early why they were good for our needs.”
That was all the Mets needed, although there were some scares from Carrasco and the Mets bullpen, until Diaz closed the door.
Carrasco, who pushed his scoreless streak to 22 ²/₃ innings, was rolling all the way to fifth. The Mets right-hander, who posted a .90 ERA in July, allowed just one hit in his first four frames, but Atlanta’s Michael Harris II hit an RBI single before Carrasco threw a juicy slider to Ronald Acuña Jr., whose two-run homer brought the Braves within 5-3.
They didn’t get close. The Mets scored one more run in the sixth on another Naquin dinger, and the Braves responded with a run against Adam Ottavino in the seventh. But with a runner and Acuña at home plate, Ottavino’s best slider of the night hit the superstar swinging. Diaz did the rest.
The Mets have won five of eight games this season against the Braves, with four more remaining this weekend before the final seven head-to-head battles in Atlanta.
It may be best for the reinvigorated Mets that the Braves portion of the schedule be postponed. The Mets are healthy, recharged and rolling.
“We got a lot of good guys back,” Carrasco said. “I think we’re fine.”