Jon Niese pitched masterfully and the Mets needed every single one of their runs, barely holding on against the Braves 6-5 on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball.
The Good Stuff:
- Playing the lead role in the baseball adaptation of a Dickens classic was Jon Niese, who in this scene in A Tale of Two Pitchers turned in a performance on par with his previous Sunday Night appearance in early June. Niese tossed 8 innings of 1-run, 6-hit ball, walking 2 and striking out 6. His lone run came when a red-hot Freddie Freeman launched a solo shot in the 2nd inning; in a year when Niese tends to collapse under the weight of one bad inning, that lone bad pitch was all that weighed him down.
- Niese will likely never be an ace in the major leagues, but he's a solid lefty starter who can fit in at the 3- or 4-spot in the rotation. With Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler in the waiting and R.A. Dickey likely to keep knuckling it up in New York for 5 more years, he doesn't have to be. If he can turn in performances like this occasionally and limit his bad innings in the future, he'll be just fine as a major-league starter.
- New York set the tone at the plate from the very start: Mike Baxter got on with a 1-out single in the 1st, then David Wright drove him in on a hit-and-run RBI double (the 800th RBI of his on-the-path-to-illustrious career). Wright in turn came in on Ike Davis's single, and just like that it was a 2-zip lead off a resurgent Ben Sheets of Atlanta.
- Ruben Tejada drove in another in the 2nd to make it 3-1. In the 5th, Wright's second double and Davis's second RBI single added another, and Jordany Valdespin crushed a solo homer to lead off the 6th.
- But the most critical run for the Mets (see below) came during their last chance at the plate when Valdespin singled, stole second, and came in on Andres Torres's base hit. That made it 6-1. Seemingly an insurmountable lead with just 3 outs to go, right?
- Remember which team we're talking about here. Josh Edgin was brought in to finish a quick 9th, but 2 walks and plunking Freeman in the back later, the bases were loaded with just 2 outs. Frank Francisco was brought in to finish up in a save situation, but Juan Francisco drew a 10-pitch walk to make it 6-2 and Michael Bourn was walked to bring in another. Frank-Frank got Martin Prado down to his final strike but made a mistake with a mid-level fastball the Prado chopped into right field. 6-5 Mets. A desperate Terry Collins brought in Jon Rauch, now the only bright spot in a bullpen of darkness. Rauch did his job, getting Jason Heyward to chase a 2-2 slider in the dirt, but even that wasn't the end of the tension: Rob Johnson took his merry time throwing the ball down to first, and a speedy Heyward missed reaching by just half a step. Game over. Mets win, but not the way that anxious kid in black had envisioned. Oh, well. Teaches him character. He'll need it to root for this New York team.
In a game that strangely mirrored the last time the Mets hosted the Braves on Sunday Night, the Amazin's had it in the bag thanks to solid starting pitching and clutch hitting, offered it up to Atlanta on the platter of a broken bullpen, only to pull it back at the last possible moment and say, "Nah, this W is ours." But all you could ask for is that the Mets wouldn't embarrass themselves in front of a national audience (minus those tuned into the Closing Ceremonies in London), and aside from the part of the team that everyone knows is dreadful, they didn't. Mostly solid game, and all Ws look the same in the standings. At this point of the season, New York fans can't afford to be picky.
The team gets tomorrow off before heading west to Great American Ballpark to face the Cincinnati Reds. Joey Votto won't be there for this series, but I will: like last year, I'll be at the games on Wednesday and Thursday night. Even with the Mets out of contention, it's still the same guys at the ballpark. That's what I'm looking forward to.