Mets drop hammer as Díaz gets 6-out save vs. Braves

Naquin homers twice; Alonso, Vogelbach go back-to-back

August 5th, 2022

NEW YORK -- As the Mets’ closer, Edwin Díaz typically pitches the ninth. So when the bullpen gate swung open after the seventh inning Thursday and Díaz came striding through it, the Citi Field videoboard was still running a hat shuffle game. Lacking his typical entrance music -- the popular “Narco” by Blasterjaxx and Timmy Trumpet -- Díaz began humming the tune in his head. He tried to jog in rhythm with the beat.

Eventually, “Narco” began playing, which allowed the crowd to match Díaz’s mental beats-per-minute. He probably didn’t need the help. Without much issue, Díaz set down the heart of Atlanta’s order to preserve a two-run lead. Then he returned to the mound for the ninth inning -- again sans trumpets -- to nail down the first six-out save of his career in a 6-4 win over the division-rival Braves.

“We’re battling for first place,” Díaz said. “We’ve got to do everything.”

In that effort, Díaz had plenty of company. became the first Mets player to go deep twice in his home debut for the club, joining and in a four-homer attack.  extended his scoreless streak to a career-best 22 2/3 innings en route to a quality start. The Mets fattened their NL East lead over the Braves to 4 1/2 games.

But the highest-leverage moments mostly went to Díaz. If the importance of this five-game series was in any way unclear entering the night, Díaz’s usage accentuated it.

All season, Mets manager Buck Showalter has talked about his desire -- and his closer’s willingness -- to have Díaz pitch earlier in games should the situation call for it. So when Braves sluggers Dansby Swanson, Matt Olson and Austin Riley queued up to open the eighth inning of a two-run game, Showalter called on his best reliever.

Given five days of rest leading up to the game -- “almost unheard of for a closer,” as Showalter put it -- Díaz figured his manager might ask him for four or five outs. Much like Citi Field’s audio operator, Díaz didn’t realize two full innings might be a possibility until later, when the bullpen phone rang in the bottom of the seventh.

In the eighth, he looked like typical Díaz, striking out both Olson and Riley while throwing nine of his 11 pitches for strikes. In the ninth, he allowed a leadoff hit, threw a wild pitch and ran a 3-0 count on Orlando Arcia, before sawing off Arcia on a 99 mph fastball to end the game.

“He needed to pitch, and it set up really well for him to be extended," Showalter said. “We don’t know what tomorrow’s going to bring. We had a chance to win a game against a really good team tonight, and we were able to put our best foot forward.”

Asked if he might have done the same thing against a lesser opponent, Showalter demurred, explaining how Díaz’s extra rest was the primary factor. Other Mets were more willing to acknowledge the importance of this five-game series, which could play a major role in dictating the NL East race. Heading into the series, a Braves sweep would have sent the Mets to second place for the first time since early April. A Mets sweep carried the promise of a massive stretch-run advantage.

“It is a special series,” Carrasco said. “They won the World Series last year, and they are the team behind us that’s playing good. I think this is really important for us.”

Even Showalter eventually admitted that this time of year, “we go to a different mode of operations sometimes.” Back in Spring Training, he told his relievers he planned to rest them frequently throughout the first half, in anticipation of working them doggedly in September and October. Thursday offered the first glimpse of Showalter’s shifting priorities, following a Trade Deadline in which the Mets did not add much to their bullpen mix.

Down the stretch, Díaz will continue to play an outsized role in high-leverage situations, along with Adam Ottavino, whose strikeout of Ronald Acuña Jr. in the seventh quelled Atlanta’s best late scoring threat. In October, Díaz said, he figures to deliver as many four-, five- and six-out saves as Showalter needs.

But the Mets have to get there first, which means blending caution with aggression in Showalter’s closer usage. Thursday, it meant one of Díaz’s most difficult saves of the season. As for Friday?

“I’m pretty sure tomorrow,” Carrasco said, “he’s going to be off.”