DJ Stewart hits go-ahead home run for Mets vs. Braves

ATLANTA — Drew Smith limped slightly as he walked around the Mets clubhouse late Monday night. As Smith took his place at his locker, teammate Brooks Raley came up to him. Rolling up his right pant leg, Smith showed Raley the bruise he sustained in the eighth inning of an 8-7 win over the Braves, the reward for crashing into a padded railing and banging his leg against a television camera.

Perhaps it’s fair to say that the Mets didn’t so much win this game as survive it. Facing their longtime tormentors in the National League East, the Mets relied on Brandon Nimmo’s pair of tying homers to complete several comebacks and on DJ Stewart’s improbable shot to take the lead for good. Then they held on for dear life.

As the lights at Truist Park went down and Braves fans turned on their cell phones and screamed, Smith and Jorge López withstood a late-inning onslaught from one of the most formidable teams in sports.

“To be honest, I was nervous here and I wasn’t even in the game anymore,” reliever Reed Garrett said from the visiting clubhouse. “Anxious. Excited. I mean, that’s what we’re here for, is to win.

If manager Carlos Mendoza had drawn up a script before the game, this would not have been the case. In many ways, the Mets are still recovering from their season opener, which included two extra games and three rainouts that forced them to play a doubleheader on their breakout day. A trio of competitive games in Cincinnati followed, prompting Mendoza to lean heavily on his strongest relievers. Not wanting to overload his arms this early in the season, Mendoza entered Monday steadfast in his commitment to avoiding using Edwin Díaz, Adam Ottavino and Raley.

To further complicate matters, four of the Mets’ top nine starters were on the injured list and a fifth was sequestered in the minors, forcing them to turn to free agency before the season was even a week old. . Making his debut Monday against his former team, Julio Tehran didn’t fare well, allowing four runs in the third inning and recording only eight outs total. By the end of the third inning, the Mets’ chances of winning were down to 13 percent.

But Nimmo hit a three-run homer off Charlie Morton to tie the game in the fifth, then hit a solo shot to tie it again in the seventh. An inning later, after Garrett recorded the last of his seven outs and retired to the clubhouse, Stewart – a little-used bench player who was 0 for 12 this season and who might have already disappeared from the lineup list if JD Martinez was healthy enough to join the Mets in Atlanta – hit a two-run homer into a landscaped pool beyond the center field fence.

“I’ve never played in the playoffs,” Stewart said afterward, “but I imagine that’s what it feels like.”

The Braves have done it, almost every year, making it a notable early-season litmus test for the Mets. Even after Stewart’s homer, Atlanta continued to advance, battling at-bat after at-bat against Smith and López. After Smith stranded the bases loaded in the eighth inning with his leg beginning to throb, López came in for the ninth and gave up a leadoff double to the opposite field. When the next batter, Marcell Ozuna, sent a ball to the warning track, Tyrone Taylor had to leave his feet to catch it. Michael Harris II followed with an RBI hit, then stole second base to put the tying run in scoring position.

Finally, as an announced crowd of 37,538 continued to roar – Smith said he had to turn up the volume on his PitchCom device just to hear his catcher’s calls – Travis d’Arnaud hit a sharp ball to 373 feet at center right. field. Sprinting, Starling Marte followed him almost to the fence.

“Right off the bat, you don’t know,” Mendoza said. “But once Marte is camped (below), we shake hands.”

In the postgame clubhouse, Nimmo spoke to the team, referencing the Mets’ 0-5 start to the season and the struggles of individual players such as himself, Francisco Lindor, Jeff McNeil and Stewart. Things are starting to change for all of them, and as a result, the Mets have won four of their last five games, including one against the team they rarely seemed to beat when they needed to.

“It feels good to do what they’ve done to us a few times,” Nimmo said of the Mets’ first four-run comeback in Atlanta in eight years. “It’s a very good team. They never gave up. … You just try to hold them off as long as you can.

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