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 would end the series in the same spot after riding four home runs 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.
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 because Atlanta got that close, great game, dominant work by Edwin Diaz and players. return to health stabilized the Mets.
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.
As if proving that they can score in different ways when the opportunity arises, 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 at-bat as a 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, got an error curveball in the third inning and 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.
That was all the scoring the Mets needed, although there were a couple scares from Carlos Carrasco and the Mets’ bullpen until Diaz shut the door.
Carrasco, who pushed his scoreless streak to 22 ²/₃ innings, was rolling until 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 Carraso 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 Naquin’s second home run of the game, and the Braves answered with one 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.
Showalter called on Diaz, who hadn’t pitched since Friday, for his first six-out save of the season. And as Diaz has done all season, he obliged.
Diaz, who put the Braves in order in the eighth, surrendered a leadoff single to Eddie Rosario in the ninth. He then got Travis d’Arnaud to fly out, struck out Marcell Ozuna and got Orlando Arcia to tap out back to the mound with the crowd on its feet. Diaz hasn’t allowed a run in his past 16 games and picked up his 24th and possibly biggest save.
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.