By Joe Rini
NEW YORK, Aug 5 — Riding an early onslaught of runs, the Atlanta Braves outlasted the New York Mets 9–6 on Friday night at Citi Field. The two division rivals have split the first two games of this pivotal five-game weekend series. With this loss, the Mets lead over the second-place Braves dropped to 3 1/2 games in the NL East. The series continues with a doubleheader on Saturday.
Early Onslaught of Runs by Braves
Mets starting pitcher Taijuan Walker entered the game with a 9–2 record, and a 2.79 ERA. However, the Braves blitzed Walker for eight runs in one-plus innings on Friday. They scored four in the first inning, and four in the second inning, jumping to an 8–0 lead.
The early onslaught of runs began with one out in the top of the first inning. After retiring Ronald Acuna Jr to lead off the game, Walker’s night quickly unraveled. Dansby Swanson doubled with one out and Matt Olson doubled him home after an injury timeout for Walker. After Austin Riley was hit by a pitch, Eddie Rosario launched a three-run home run over the right field wall for the early 4–0 lead.
With a doubleheader on tap for Saturday, the Mets hoped to get length from Walker but the Braves didn’t cooperate. Michael Harris led off with a home run for a 5–0 Braves lead. Acuna, Swanson, and Olson followed three straight singles before Buck Showalter replaced Walker with Trevor Williams. Williams retired Riley on a fielder’s scoring one run before Rosario’s doubled to make the score 8–0.
Mets Rebound in Fifth Inning
Meanwhile, the Mets failed to cash in on their opportunities against Braves starter Ian Anderson. Brandon Nimmo doubled leading off the first inning, but Acuna’s leaping catch against the right field wall robbed Pete Alonso of a home run and kept the Mets scoreless. With two outs and the bases loaded in the second inning, Nimmo lined a single to center scoring Tyler Naquin. However, Harris’ throw home easily nailed Luis Guillorme at the plate, and the inning ended with the score 8–1 Braves.
However, Williams kept the Braves scoreless long enough for the Mets to close the gap in the fifth inning with four runs. Jeff McNeil singled in Francisco Lindor with a single to right field to make it 8–2 Braves. Manager Brian Snitker then replaced Anderson with lefty Dylan Lee while Showalter countered with pinch hitter Darin Ruf. The newly acquired Ruf laced a two-run double in his first Mets plate appearance and he scored on Eduardo Escobar‘s pinch-hit RBI single. Tomas Nido flew out to end the inning, but the Mets now trailed 8–5.
Battle of the Bullpens
After the early onslaught of runs and the Mets’ comeback, the respective bullpens pitched scoreless ball through the eighth inning. Tommy Hunter allowed a ninth-inning home run to William Contreras to extend the Braves’ lead to 9–5. Kelly Jansen allowed a solo home run to McNeil in the ninth inning in a non-save situation and the Braves took game two 9–6. A.J. Minter picked up his fifth victory in relief and Walker’s record dropped to 9–3.
LWOB Question to Showalter
After the game, Showalter cited command issues and not injury with Walker’s rough outing. Also, LWOB asked Showalter about a pivotal moment in the bottom of the fifth inning when an up, and in wild pitch nearly hit Alonso in the face. Alonso subsequently lined a single igniting the rally. How did that pitch affect the subsequent four-run rally?
Showalter didn’t see any intent, noting Anderson had command issues with his fastball and pitchers pitch Alonso up and in. Showalter continued and praised Alonso’s ability to get back in the box and line a single. “I hope everyone appreciates how hard that is to do, how it tests your mettle, and at every turn, Pete has answered that.” Describing what it must be like to stand in the batter’s box with a ball “buzzing by your nose” from a pitcher with command issues, Showalter said, “He’s done that countless times this year. I certainly wouldn’t test his mettle if I was another team or another pitcher.”