NEW YORK -- Juan Lagares dropped to a knee at second base, smacking his gloved hands together half a dozen times. Across the diamond, Asdrubal Cabrera waited in foul ground after half-jogging, half-leaping home. A grin broke across Todd Frazier's face as he neared Cabrera, slapping his teammate's hand with force.
Lagares' two-run double had just given the Mets their first lead in an 11-5 win over the Nationals at Citi Field, highlighting a 12-batter, nine-run, eighth-inning rally that diverted them from a three-game series sweep. About an hour later, as they packed and dressed for an early-morning flight to Georgia, reminiscing on Lagares' hit and Yoenis Cespedes' grand slam, some Mets tried to temper the importance of a single game in April. But there was no disguising it.
"It's just huge for us to avoid the sweep and fly down to Atlanta happy," outfielder Michael Conforto said.
Grand slams mean 40% off pizza
It was Conforto who ignited the winning rally, singling off Ryan Madson with the Mets trailing by two. Cespedes followed with another knock. Then Cabrera singled and, in Conforto's words, "you could kind of feel the energy building." Two batters later, Frazier collected his sixth hit in 17 tries with runners in scoring position, tying the game at 4.
An intentional walk and a strikeout loaded the bases for Lagares, who ripped a two-run, go-ahead double just inside the right-field foul line, giving the Mets their first lead of the night.
"I was ready for that the whole at-bat," Lagares said. "I got a good pitch, and I made a good swing."
Cespedes' slam wound up icing a night that could have turned out much differently for the Mets. Entering the week with a 12-2 record and a six-game National League East lead over the defending division champions, the Mets lost gut-punch games Monday and Tuesday. They arrived at Citi Field the following afternoon aching to salvage something; although manager Mickey Callaway insisted this was no different than any other game, criticisms were raining down from all corners of the media landscape. Callaway himself dropped the first hints of urgency, removing starting pitcher Steven Matz for pinch-hitter Brandon Nimmo after four innings and 74 pitches.
The move wasn't universally well-received. Matz, who had retired 10 straight after Ryan Zimmerman's three-run homer in the first inning, slammed his bat to the ground in the dugout. Then he watched as Amed Rosario hit into an inning-ending double play with the Mets trailing by a run. Had Paul Sewald not given the Mets three innings of one-run relief, their eighth-inning opportunity might never have arisen. New York might have dropped three straight to an archrival oozing with confidence. The criticisms would have continued to fall like rain.
But Sewald did his part and Frazier, Lagares and Cespedes did the rest, sending the Mets to a 13-4 record for just the third time in franchise history.
"We just went out and took it," Callaway said. "We went there and the players in that clubhouse took that game. They were wanting to win, and they did everything they could."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Had Matz's pitch count been in the 50s or 60s when his spot in the order came up in the fourth, Callaway said, he never would have considered removing his pitcher from the game. But with Matz at 74 pitches, the manager called him back from the on-deck circle, sending out Nimmo instead. Although Nimmo reached first on a hit-by-pitch, Rosario followed with the inning-ending double play.
"I definitely understand," Matz said of Callaway's decision. "I think Mickey would understand that I wouldn't be happy. As a competitor, you want to go out there and go as deep in the game as you can. … Thankfully, the bats came alive and we were able to get the win."
From the sixth inning of the Mets' April 1 loss to the Cardinals to the sixth inning Wednesday, Sewald retired 18 consecutive batters. He appeared in just two games in between, retiring the only batter he faced in an April 10 win over the Marlins, then all nine men he saw in Saturday's loss to the Brewers. Wednesday, Sewald set down six in a row before Zimmerman led off the seventh with a triple.
"I'm throwing strikes most importantly," Sewald said. "I can't eat innings if I'm out there throwing 25 pitches an inning. Most important is to get weak contact as early as we can."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
A notorious low-ball hitter, Cespedes elevated his bat plane in the eighth inning to take A.J. Cole deep for his sixth career grand slam. Cole's 95-mph fastball crossed home plate 3.82 feet above the ground, well out of the strike zone. It was the highest pitch Cespedes has hit out since joining the Mets in 2015, and the highest pitch anyone in the Majors has redirected over the fence this season.
Asked if his pair of hits might ignite a hot streak, Cespedes, who was in a 7-for-46 (.152) slump entering the eighth inning, cut off an interpreter's attempt to translate the question.
"I really hope so," Cespedes said in Spanish.
HE SAID IT
"I put it away and we end up winning. So I'm going to sell it if anybody's interested. I bought it for 95 bucks. I'll go half price for anybody if they're interested." -- Frazier, on the pepper shaker he purchased to give to the Mets' player of the game after wins. When Frazier noticed it still sitting in Wilmer Flores' locker Wednesday afternoon following two straight losses, he moved it out of the main clubhouse room, calling it "bad luck."
Allowing four runs in five innings in each of his last two starts, Matt Harvey looks to improve -- and to solidify his rotation status with teammate Jason Vargas nearing a return from the disabled list -- when he starts the Mets' 7:35 p.m. ET series opener Thursday at SunTrust Park. Originally scheduled Braves starter Anibal Sanchez was placed on the disabled list Wednesday with a leg injury; Atlanta hasn't announced a new starter.