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September 18, 2019
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The Mets Get Their Swagger Back

The Mets Get Their Swagger Back
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Tyler Kepner

ATLANTA — There was no way the Mets were losing on Thursday, not after Pete Alonso dunked a fastball into a water display high above center field for a three-run homer in the first inning. It was the first of five hits for Alonso, whose teammates added 18 more.

As the Mets left for Kansas City — and more outfield fountains at Kauffman Stadium — some of their swagger had returned. They had outlasted the Atlanta Braves, 10-8, for their first victory after three losses in a row and a hamstring injury to Jeff McNeil, their All-Star leadoff man. A sweep here would have stifled the momentum of the 15-1 stretch that vaulted them into the pennant race.

“We needed a win today, for sure,” Alonso said, adding later, “Every game matters at this point in the year. We’re right there, we’re right there in the hunt.”

It is hard to draw conclusions from any set of three games, but the Braves showed just how hard it will be for the Mets to climb into the playoffs. The games just feel different against dangerous, highly motivated teams. Marcus Stroman, the Mets’ starter, knew he could not cruise with that early 3-0 lead.

“This team, Atlanta, 1 through 9, is pretty special,” Stroman said. “It’s a priority on making your pitches and not leaving anything over the plate, especially to those 1 through 5 hitters.”

Some of those hitters did their damage later, off Drew Gagnon, who turned a laugher into a save situation for Edwin Diaz by giving up four home runs in the span of 11 batters: two to Freddie Freeman and the others to Josh Donaldson and Ronald Acuna Jr. Ozzie Albies, mercifully, had a quiet night.

Alonso, who tied the single-season National League rookie record for home runs on Thursday, with 39, may succeed Acuna as the N.L. Rookie of the Year. But Acuna is a true sensation, one of the best all-around players in the game; he scaled the left field wall to rob J.D. Davis of a homer in the sixth, then coolly sat on the warning track, keeping 25,424 fans — and one mildly irritated hitter — in suspense before revealing the ball. Davis said he was past second base on his trot before he knew he’d been robbed.

“Ronnie’s got a chance to be one of the greatest players in baseball,” said Braves reliever Jerry Blevins, the former Mets left-hander. “He’s already an M.V.P. candidate at 21 years old, and Rookie of the Year last year. He’s so talented, and Ozzie’s an amazing talent as well. It’s just a really fun team to be around.”

The Braves face their own test this weekend against the Los Angeles Dodgers, an upper-crust matchup between the two best teams in the N.L. The Washington Nationals and the Mets are likely to keep scrapping for wild-card spots with the Philadelphia Phillies and other teams from the Central division. So much can happen, and the Mets — at 62-59 before Friday — are still in the fray.

But the competition only gets tougher from here. After this weekend, the Mets play 25 games in a row against teams that entered Friday with a winning record. They just split six games with two of them, the Nationals and the Braves.

“We went through two teams that are very good and we went .500 against them,” Manager Mickey Callaway said, adding later, “You win one more of those six games and you’re 4-2. We’ve got to keep it going. Like I’ve said before, we haven’t done anything yet. We’ve put ourselves in a good position.”

Losing McNeil hurts, of course, though the Mets hope he can return soon, perhaps when he is eligible next Saturday. Shortstop Amed Rosario took over the leadoff spot by going 9 for 11 in the last two games here, including 5 for 6 on Thursday. He and Alonso became the first Mets teammates ever to have five hits in the same game.

“Oh, that’s nuts, that’s crazy,” Alonso said. “I think all of us fed off Amed today. He’s been smoking hot this second half.”

Rosario finished this series with a .366 average since the All-Star break, building off a strong finish to last season.

“My confidence is at an all-time high,” he said through an interpreter, and with McNeil gone, it is happening at just the right time.

Alonso, meanwhile, was hitting .181 since the All-Star break — when he won the home run derby — until his breakout on Thursday. The Mets succeeded without their premier slugger at his best, and if he gets hot, that will be another way to make up for losing McNeil.

“I know what I can do, and I was kind of just frustrated after a while, because I know I’m better,” Alonso said. “A lot of my teammates have picked me up in a lot of really awesome spots, and I’m really thankful. It’s a team game, absolutely, but there’s been some times where I feel like I haven’t been pulling my weight.”

That changed in a big way on Thursday, against a very strong team. Alonso must continue producing against contenders to keep the Mets in contention. Before that, though, he has more fountains to conquer in Kansas City.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/16/sports/mets.html?emc=rss&partner=rss

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