The Mets are whole, playing their best baseball of the season and establishing their promise against a team with postseason bona fides.
They entered a five-game set against the Braves in first place in the NL East, and the Mets will end the series in the same spot after riding four home runs and six Edwin Diaz outs to a 6-4 victory over the reigning World Series. champions in front of 38,693 sweating fans on a wet Thursday night at Citi Field.
Manager Buck Showalter’s club, which moved 4 ¹/₂ games up on Atlanta, won nine of 10 and began to re-inflate a division lead that had shrunk.
“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 this is really important for us.”
The Mets (67-38) led the NL East by 10 ¹/₂ games on June 1 before that lead dwindled to a half-game by July 23. But as Atlanta threatened their lead, the Mets were steadied by a great, dominant game. Diaz’s work and the addition of some players, through trade or better health.
Catcher James McCann returned to the lineup Thursday, a day after Trevor May returned to the bullpen. Atlanta will face a healthy Max Scherzer (Saturday) and Jacob deGrom (Sunday). And the Braves got a bitter first taste of the Mets’ recent additions when left fielder Tyler Naquin homered twice in his first home game in Queens, while Daniel Vogelbach hit his second homer in as many days.
“It’s awesome,” said Naquin, who enjoyed Citi Field much more in a Mets uniform. “Hell, even if I played here for four years, that’s a good night.”
The night wasn’t completed until Diaz’s surprise entrance in the eighth inning, so extraordinary that his trademark “Narco” entrance song began playing late as he warmed up on the mound.
Diaz, given a two-run lead, put the Braves down in order in the eighth, then surrendered a leadoff single to Eddie Rosario in the ninth. But he got Travis d’Arnaud to fly out, struck out Marcell Ozuna and came inside on Orlando Arcia, whose defensive sweep ended with a pat back to the mound.
Showalter stated that Diaz’s long layoff — he hadn’t pitched since Friday — was the catalyst for the longest save of his career, but the opponent must be factored in, too.
“We’re playing a good team,” said Diaz, who hasn’t allowed a run in his past 16 games. “We’re just trying to win and let the fans know we’re really good.”
As if proving they can score in different ways, the Mets used both the small ball and the long ball to grab a lead they didn’t relinquish.
In the first inning, Starling Marte reached on 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 run as a MET resulted in a second-inning home run. Alonso, who went 2-for-3 with three more RBIs to reach 91, was thrown an error curveball in the third inning and he crushed it for a two-run home run, his 29th of the year. Four pitches later, Vogelbach, in the lineup against Braves right-handed starter Kyle Wright, smacked a homer to right.
“I think we knew what [Naquin and Vogelbach] were capable from a record standpoint,” Showalter said of the trade additions. “I think it showed a little early on why they fit our needs.”
That was all the scoring the Mets needed, although there were a couple scares from Carrasco and the Mets’ bullpen, until Diaz closed the door.
Carrasco, who pushed his scoreless streak to 22 ²/₃ innings, rolled through the fifth. The Mets’ righty, who posted a 0.90 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 to within 5-3.
They didn’t come close. The Mets scored one more run in the sixth on another Naquin dinger, and the Braves answered with a run off Adam Ottavino in the seventh. But with a runner on and Acuña at the plate, Ottavino’s best slider of the night struck out the superstar swinging. Diaz did the rest.
The Mets have won five of the eight games this season against the Braves, with four more to play this weekend before the final seven head-to-head battles in Atlanta.
Perhaps it’s best for the revitalized Mets that the Braves portion of the schedule has been backloaded. The Mets are healthy, recharged and rolling.
“We got a lot of good guys back,” Carrasco said. “I think we’ll be fine.”