For the last 16 years, every Mets trip to Atlanta has been fraught with the potential for disaster—potential that was usually realized, and most often administered by Chipper Jones.
Friday night, the Mets played the Braves in Turner Field for the first time since Chipper Jones retired, and they won exactly the kind of game that they had spent the last decade-and-a-half throwing away or having stolen from them in Atlanta.
It was, given the venue and the circumstances leading up to the game (the Mets had dropped six of their last seven), the most impressive Mets victory of the season, a 7-5, 10-inning thriller featuring four Mets home runs, stellar back-end relief after it appeared Brandon Lyon had blown the game, terrific at-bats in critical situations and some savvy managing by Terry Collins.
And, while the Braves no longer have Chipper, they still hold first place, the current National League home run leader and the league’s best reliever. That would be Craig Kimbrel, who came in to protect a 5-4 Braves lead in the top of the ninth, got Daniel Murphy looking to start the inning, and then blew two 97-mph fastballs past a swinging David Wright to get ahead 0-2 on the seemingly overmatched Mets captain. But instead of trying to overpower the Mets third baseman a third time, Kimbrel went with an outside fastball on a 2-2 pitch and Wright drove it over the wall for a game-tying solo homer.
Bobby Parnell held his ground and escaped a jam in the bottom of the ninth, and in the 10th, the Mets staged a two-out rally after there were two out and nobody on base, with Ruben Tejada and Murphy delivering RBI singles. After Jordany Valdespin had walked with two out, Collins sent Parnell up to bat for himself—but only long enough to allow Valdespin to steal second. Once the runner was in scoring position, Collins switched to Mike Baxter as a pinch-hitter. Baxter was hit by Jordan Walden’s pitch, Tejada and Murphy followed with their hits, and then, in the bottom of the 10th, Jeurys Familia made Collins’ move to replace Parnell stand up with an inning of relief so impressive that he could offer hope of maybe becoming that eighth-inning setup man the Mets bullpen so cries out for.
The Mets are 12-15, with Jon Niese and Matt Harvey scheduled to start the next two games in Atlanta, which seems a slightly less foreboding place than it used to for this team.