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 finish 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 muggy Thursday night at Citi Field.
Manager Buck Showalter’s club, which moved 4 ¹/₂ games up on Atlanta, has won nine of 10 and has begun to reinflate a division lead that had shrunk.
“It is a special series. They won the World Series last year, and they are 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 shrank to a half-game by July 23. But since Atlanta threatened their lead, the Mets have been steadied by excellent play, dominant work from Diaz and the addition of a few players, through trade or better health.
Catcher James McCann returned to the lineup Thursday, a day after Trevor May came back 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, as left fielder Tyler Naquin homered twice in his first home game in Queens, while Daniel Vogelbach slugged his second home run in as many days.
“It’s awesome,” said Naquin, who enjoyed Citi Field a lot more in a Mets uniform. “Heck, even if I’d been playing here for four years, that’s a good night.”
The night was not completed until Diaz’s surprise entrance in the eighth inning, so out of sorts that his trademark “Narco” entrance song began playing late, while he was warming up on the mound.
Diaz, given a two-run lead, set 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 swing ended with a tap-out back to the mound.
Showalter stated that Diaz’s long layoff — he had not pitched since Friday — was the catalyst for the longest save of his career, but the opponent must have factored in, too.
“We’re playing a good team,” said Diaz, who has not allowed a run in his past 16 games. “We’re just trying to win and let the fans know we are really good.”
As if demonstrating that they can score in different ways, the Mets used both the small ball and the long ball to grab a lead they did not 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 at-bat as a Met resulted in a second-inning homer. Alonso, who went 2-for-3 with three more RBIs to reach 91, was thrown a mistake curveball 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 Braves righty starter Kyle Wright, swatted a homer to right.
“I think we knew what [Naquin and Vogelbach] were capable of from a track record standpoint,” Showalter said of the trade additions. “I think it’s shown itself a little early on why they were good fits for our needs.”
That was all the scoring the Mets needed, although there were a couple of scares from 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 knocked 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 got no closer. The Mets scored one more run in the sixth on another Naquin dinger, and the Braves answered with a run against 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 swinging superstar. 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 reinvigorated Mets that the Braves portion of the schedule was backloaded. The Mets are healthy, reloaded and rolling.
“We got a lot of good guys back,” Carrasco said. “I think we’re going to be fine.”