NEW YORK -- Before the Mets’ late offensive surge, which afforded them a notable exhale in the game’s fourth hour, Saturday night’s affair at Citi Field was a tight one. And for a moment in the seventh inning, everything seemed in peril -- David Peterson's fine start, the Mets’ potential victory, even their thinning hopes at a postseason berth. In the span of a few minutes at Citi Field, Miguel Castro made things tense, loading the bases on a hit and two walks.
At the plate was Freddie Freeman, perhaps the favorite to win the National League MVP Award. Out of the bullpen came Justin Wilson, whose second pitch was the most important of all in the Mets’ 7-2 win over the Braves: a 94 mph fastball that Freeman grounded to second, where Robinson Canó started an inning-ending, 4-6-3 double play. The resulting victory pulled the Mets back within 1 1/2 games of a playoff spot.
“With Freddie, it’s not an easy AB for anybody,” Wilson said. “He’s a great hitter. And he’s well proven. Luckily, he hit it right to Robbie.”
The Braves kept threatening, but couldn’t complete a comeback attempt that began after the Mets took an early lead on Canó’s two-run single in the first. Peterson took over from there, striking out a career-high 10 and generating a career-best 22 swinging strikes -- more than half of them on a slider that he called “as good as it gets, feeling-wise, for me.” All told, Peterson pitched six innings of one-run ball, before turning things over to Castro in the seventh.
“He had it going,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Peterson.
The Mets then added to their lead in the eighth, when Dominic Smith and Canó hit back-to-back homers off Shane Greene and Brandon Nimmo added a two-run single. The result was a final score unreflective of the tenseness of the game -- particularly for the Mets, who desperately needed a win to maintain positive movement up the NL standings. If the Mets want to play in October, they still must vault past at least three teams. They probably can’t afford to lose more than two games the rest of the season.
“Down the stretch,” Wilson said, “the losses hurt a little bit more and the wins feel a little bit better, just because of the situation we’re in.”
So it was important that Peterson pitch well and it was crucial that the Mets tack on late. And it was critical that the bridge between those two aspects hold.
Throughout September, the Mets have sought length from their starting rotation, as injuries and poor performances have taxed their bullpen. Following three straight abbreviated outings from other pitchers, Peterson finally authored a strong start, striking out Freeman three times before handing the ball over to the bullpen.
Then Castro immediately gave the Braves the life they lacked, throwing wildly from the moment he took the mound. When Ronald Acuña Jr. drew a one-out walk to bring up Freeman, Mets manager Luis Rojas turned to Wilson, putting his most trusted lefty in about the most difficult spot imaginable: bases loaded, one out, one of the game’s best hitters at the plate. Over his previous 12 games, Freeman had batted .479 with five homers, 22 RBIs and a 1.527 OPS.
“We all know what a guy like Freddie Freeman can do in this game,” Canó said.
“It takes everything to get that guy out,” Peterson added.
Or perhaps it simply takes a bit of good fortune. After opening Freeman with a ball, Wilson tried to “get back into the count” with a 94 mph fastball, which caught far more of the strike zone than he intended. Freeman pounded it into the ground and the Mets’ infielders did the rest, from Canó to Andrés Giménez to Smith for a textbook double play. Two innings later, the Mets emerged with a win, which kept their thin but plausible postseason hopes alive.
They’ll continue trying to stoke those hopes for as long as they can.
“The games are meaningful in the sense that we’re not out of it,” Wilson said. “We’ve got a ton of fight on this team. The fact that we can still compete for a spot makes every game important.”