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 home runs for a 6-4 win over the defending World Series champions ahead. 38,693 sweaty fans on a sweltering 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.
The Mets (67-38) led the NL East by 10 games ¹/₂ on June 1 before that lead was reduced to half a game on July 23. But since Atlanta got closer, great play, dominating work from Edwin Diaz and returning players to health has stabilized the Mets.
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.
As if to demonstrate that they can score in different ways when the opportunity presents itself, the Mets used both shortball and longball 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 at bat as the Met resulted in a second-inning homer, his eighth of the season. Alonso, who went 2-for-3 with three more RBIs to reach 91 on the year, made a curveball error in the third inning and 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.
That was all the Mets needed, although there were a few scares from Carlos Carrasco and the Mets bullpen until Diaz closed the door.
Carrasco, who pushed his scoreless innings 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 Carraso 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 Naquin’s second homer of the game, 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.
Showalter called on Diaz, who hadn’t pitched since Friday, for his first six-out save of the season. And like Diaz has done all season, he had to.
Diaz, who put the Braves in order in the eighth, gave up a first single to Eddie Rosario in the ninth. He then had Travis d’Arnaud fly off, knocked out Marcell Ozuna and had Orlando Arcia return to the mound with the standing crowd. Diaz hasn’t allowed a run in his last 16 games and made his 24th and perhaps greatest save.
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.