Mets survive late rally, claim first meeting with Braves

'I’ve never played in the postseason, but I can imagine that’s what it’s like'

April 9th, 2024

ATLANTA -- limped slightly as he walked around the Mets’ clubhouse late Monday night. As Smith took a seat in front of his locker, teammate Brooks Raley came over to check on him. Rolling up his right pant leg, Smith showed Raley the bruise he had acquired during the eighth inning of an 8-7 win over the Braves, the reward for slamming into a padded railing and knocking his leg against a television camera.

It may be fair to say the Mets did not win this game so much as survive it. Facing their longtime tormentors in the National League East, the Mets relied on ’s pair of game-tying homers to complete multiple comebacks and ’s improbable go-ahead shot to take the lead for good. Then they held on for dear life.

As Truist Park’s lights went out and Braves fans lit their cellphones and hollered, Smith and held off a late-inning assault from one of the sport’s most formidable teams.

“To be honest, I was nervous in here, and I wasn’t even in the game anymore,” reliever Reed Garrett said from the visiting clubhouse. “Anxious. Excited. I mean, that’s what we’re here to do, is to win.”

Had manager Carlos Mendoza drawn up a script before the game, this wouldn’t have been it. In many ways, the Mets are still recovering from their season-opening homestand, which included two extra-inning contests and three rainouts that forced them to play a doubleheader on their getaway day. A trio of competitive games in Cincinnati followed, prompting Mendoza to rely heavily on his highest-leverage relievers. Unwilling to overwork those arms this early in the season, Mendoza entered Monday steadfast in his commitment to avoid using Edwin Díaz, Adam Ottavino and Raley.

Further complicating matters was the fact that four of the Mets’ top nine starters were on the injured list and a fifth was sequestered in the Minors, which forced them to dip into free agency before the season was even a week old. Debuting Monday against his old team, Julio Teheran didn’t fare well, allowing four runs in the third inning and recording just eight outs overall. By the end of the third inning, the Mets’ win expectancy had fallen to 13 percent.

But Nimmo hit a three-run homer off Charlie Morton to tie the game in the fifth, then drilled a solo shot to tie it again in the seventh. An inning later, after Garrett recorded the last of his seven outs and retreated to the clubhouse, Stewart -- a sparsely used bench player who was 0-for-12 on the season, and who might have already fallen off the roster had J.D. Martinez been fit enough to join the Mets in Atlanta -- splashed a go-ahead, two-run homer into a landscaped pool beyond the center-field fence.

“I’ve never played in the postseason,” Stewart said afterward, “but I can imagine that’s what it’s like.”

The Braves have, nearly every year, which made them a notable early season litmus test for the Mets. Even after Stewart’s homer, Atlanta just kept coming, grinding out at-bat after at-bat against Smith and López. After Smith stranded the bases loaded in the eighth inning with his leg starting to throb, López entered for the ninth and ceded an opposite-field, leadoff double. When the next batter, Marcell Ozuna, sent a ball to the warning track, Tyrone Taylor had to leave his feet to catch it. Michael Harris II followed with an RBI hit, then stole second base to put the tying run in scoring position.

Finally, as an announced crowd of 37,538 continued to roar -- Smith said he needed to max out the volume on his PitchCom device just to hear calls from his catcher -- Travis d’Arnaud hit a sharp fly ball 373 feet to right-center field. Sprinting, Starling Marte tracked it nearly all the way to the fence.

“Off the bat, you don’t know,” Mendoza said. “But once Marte is camped [under it], we shake hands.”

In the postgame clubhouse, Nimmo spoke to the team, referencing the Mets’ 0-5 start to the season and the struggles of individual players such as himself, Francisco Lindor, Jeff McNeil and Stewart. Things are starting to turn for all of them, and as a result, the Mets have won four of their last five games -- including one against the team they’ve rarely seemed to beat when they’ve needed to.

“It’s nice to kind of do what they’ve done to us a few times,” Nimmo said of the Mets’ first four-run comeback in Atlanta in eight years. “They’re a really great team. They never quit. … You’re just trying to keep them down as long as you can.”