In the biggest game of the season so far, the Braves rose to the occasion and defeated the Mets 5-2. As a result, the NL East race is dead even; after 157 games, each team is 98-57. By the way, I’m just kidding about the IWOTM in the headline–this team is not the Mets we are used to from earlier seasons. But it’s still sweet to remember that the Braves have erased a ten and a half game lead.
Actually, this was not just the biggest game of the season, it was probably the biggest regular season game of this millennium. Although the Braves are in the playoffs no matter what, the reward for winning the division is huge. A bye in the first round and not facing the Dodgers in the NLDS is worth fighting for.
We had tickets, but for family reasons we couldn’t travel to Atlanta. Truist was rocking, but I’ve got to say we had a playoff atmosphere at our house. Instead of joining thousands of rowdy folks in the Battery, we watched the Braves Live pregame show in our living room. We were ready: just like last October, my wife and I wore our lucky shirts and tried to sit in the right chairs in the right positions.
In the pregame show, Brian Jordan asserted that the only way to beat deGrom is to shorten your swing and don’t try to hit homers; let the ball get deep, and guide it to the opposite field. I’m glad BJ is not the hitting coach. Hasn’t he been watching this team all year? As Snitker often says, “We hit homers—that’s who we are.”
And so they did again Friday night. Three solo homers—back to back jacks by Riley and Olson in the second, and a solo shot by Dansby in the sixth, gave the Braves a 3-1 lead. This was the first time deGrom had given up three home runs in a start in over three years. But that’s what this team does.
Mighty Max, Pontifex Maximus, Varsity Fried was on the hill for the Braves in a matchup of Certifiable Aces. Both managers had manipulated the rotations so that these two would face off in the first game of the series. As we all learned later on, Max was feeling the effects of a stomach bug. He got through the first unscathed, but he surrendered the game’s first run in the top of the second. The Mets got that run on three singles. But two of those were fly balls in front of Eddie Rosario—and both should have been caught. The leadoff hit by McNeill was a catchable bloop that Eddie must have lost in the lights. The RBI single was a soft liner that he got to with a slide, but it bounced off his glove.
The B2B’s to lead off the bottom of the second were thrilling. That was the moment that I most wished I had been there in person. After falling behind deGrom, the place had gotten quiet. It wasn’t hard to imagine that one run lead holding up through seven or eight innings of deGrom dominance, followed by a nasty inning or two by Diaz to close it out.
Oh ye of little faith. On the second pitch of the inning, Riley crushed a hanging slider over the fence in straight away center. Olson, on a 3-1 count, destroyed a 99 mph fastball, 430 ft right center. All of a sudden the Braves had the lead and all’s right with the world.
The Braves never relinquished that lead. After the shaky second, Max was magnificent. He retired the next ten Mets he faced, and was at 71 pitches through five innings. I was figuring at this rate we’d get perhaps two more innings out of him. But during the bottom of the fifth, the TV showed McHugh warming up with some urgency in the pen. Then they quickly showed a shot of Fried grabbing a trash can and sticking his face into it. That’s when we al learned he’d been fighting the stomach problem the whole game, and it finally got the best of him.
I love Max Fried’s determination on the mound. Five innings of one run ball was a terrific performance under the circumstances. McHugh and Iglesias pitched a scoreless sixth and seventh, respectively. By that time, the lead was 3-1, thanks to the Swanson solo shot in the bottom of the sixth. Lt. Dans took a 98 mph heater that was around his knees deep to left.
In the bottom of the seventh, Tylor (sic) Megill (sic) came on for the Mets. Olson led off line drive single—Matt’s back! D’Arnaud doubled to the gap in right center. Runners second and third, no out, infield in. Contreras popped to first, no advance. Rosario needs to get a flyball to outfield. At the time he signed Eddie, AA said he did so because of his bat to ball skills. The Braves have a lot of guys with power who strike out a lot, but sometimes you need someone who can put the ball in play. Eddie came through on a fly ball deep enough to score Olson and send Travis to third. Then an Arcia a double to right center drove in the fifth run.
Those extra runs came in handy. AJ Minter gave up a solo homer to Nido in the eighth to make it 5-2. Would this be a sufficient Kenley Kushion? Well, Jansen struck out the side in the ninth to preserve the 5-2 win and earn his league leading 38th save.
But if you were watching, you know that is far from the whole story. Jansen gave us the drama we’ve come to expect. He struck out Lindor to open the inning. But Canha did what he does best—he leaned over the plate and let an inside pitch hit him in the arm. A single by McNeill (our announcers can’t resist calling him “pesky” and I think they are right) and walk to Escobar loaded the bases. The go ahead run is now at the plate in the person of young Francisco Alvarez. He’s the number one prospect in baseball, just called up and making his big league debut in the biggest game the Mets have played in years. What a story line! The kid is thinking grand slam, and he’s swinging from his heels. Fortunately, the veteran Jansen carved him up for a strikeout and the second out. With the game on the line, Jansen also struck out Tyler Naquin, although not before he fouled off about 77 pitches. It may not have been quite that many but it seemed that way. Two of them were foul tips that Travis couldn’t quite hold, and another was a pop that just got over the screen. Jansen kept pumping strikes and finally got the swing and miss to seal the game.
Did you notice the phrase “so far” in the very first sentence of this recap? Tonight’s game will be even bigger. Although the standings show that the race is tied, because of the tie breaker rules in effect this season, you might as well think of the Mets still having a one game lead. The Braves really need a sweep; if they do, the division will be all but theirs. Taking two of three in the series will leave the standings tied with three to play, but the Mets would control their own destiny, as the cliché has it.
So we need to do it again tonight. Twenty game winner Kyle Wright against Hall of Famer Max Scherzer. I may be there in person, but if not, I will be in my living room, wearing the same lucky shirt, and sitting in the same lucky chair. You can’t take any chances when October baseball rolls around.