Mets’ come-from-behind win over Braves features 3 notable developments

ATLANTA — The crowd at Truist Park, with all its chanting, cheering and clapping, made a night in April feel like something much later in the season with much higher stakes. With the count full and the tying run at the plate in the eighth inning of Monday’s game, New York Mets reliever Drew Smith stepped off the rubber. He put his glove to his ear. Then he pressed the buttons on the PitchCom inside his hat, cranking the push-button device to its highest volume. Still, nothing. Finally, he shook his head and told catcher Francisco Alvarez, “I can’t hear.”

The crowd’s enthusiasm was not misplaced. For an April game, the Mets’ 8-7 come-from-behind win over the Atlanta Braves featured sways of emotion behind a handful of key plays. From the Mets’ perspective, the job of their bullpen stood out as one of three notable developments.

After Smith gave up on hearing, Alvarez trotted out for a visit. Following the discussion, Braves outfielder Jarred Kelenic chased Smith’s next pitch, a slider darting inside. Smith had struck out the previous batter, catcher Travis d’Arnaud, with a high fastball timed at 95 mph — just moments after crashing into a camera while attempting to catch a popup in foul territory. After striking out Kelenic, Smith walked the next two batters — Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies — before retiring Austin Riley on a grounder with the bases loaded to end the inning.

On a night when the Mets desperately needed it, Smith showed grit and moxie, challenging the Braves’ batters with fastballs and utilizing a slider when it made sense.

“He kept making pitches,” Mets manager Carlos Mendoza said.

Before the game, Mendoza all but said he would not be using Edwin Diaz, Brooks Raley or Adam Ottavino — the Mets’ three top relievers — because of how often they have been used early on. The Mets are in the middle of a stretch of 15 games in 14 days. All three relievers had pitched in three of the last four games, including all three appearing Sunday.

The situation became more difficult to navigate after starter Julio Teheran supplied only 2 2/3 innings. But Reed Garrett then tossed 2 1/3 scoreless innings, showing again that although he is the rare pitcher in the Mets bullpen carrying an ability to be optioned to the minors, he can also be depended on.

This situation may reappear for the Mets during this stretch — and if not, then certainly at a later date. Mendoza, in his first year, must navigate workloads of relievers while trying to win games. The Mets improved to 4-6 and have won four of their last five games. It was understandable that Mendoza wanted to stay away from his three best relievers, but the Mets barely hung on to win, with Jorge Lopez closing the game in the ninth, but not before allowing a run and the potential tying run to reach second base.

During the Mets’ five-game losing streak to start the season, they needed more from their best players. That included Brandon Nimmo. Though Nimmo hit some balls hard, experienced some poor fortune and started to walk more, he entered Monday’s game just 3-for-29.

Then Monday happened.

Nimmo went 4-for-4 with two home runs and five RBIs.

Indeed, he racked up more hits Monday than he had the previous nine games combined.

Nimmo’s first home run drove in three and tied the score at 4-4 in the fifth inning. In the seventh, his solo home run tied it at 5.

The game served as a reminder of just how good Nimmo is and how important he is to the Mets.

For example, Nimmo, a left-handed batter, has made himself into the special kind of hitter who can handle both right-handers and lefties. There was at least one major exception, though. For years, Nimmo could not figure out Braves lefty reliever A.J. Minter. Against Minter, entering Monday, Nimmo was 1-for-10 with six strikeouts.

“He’s had my number for a while,” Nimmo said. “I’ve always faced him in pressure situations, and he’s always rose to the occasion and made good pitches. If he makes his pitches, he’s tough.”

With the count 2-1 in the seventh inning, Minter left a fastball over the plate. Nimmo crushed it for a no-doubter. It was as good a sign as any that Nimmo had thoroughly busted out of an early season slump, which was an obvious need for the Mets.

DJ Stewart watched without showing much expression as the ball traveled beyond the outfield wall in center. He got all of it. He cracked a smile only after completing his home run trot, when he embraced Jeff McNeil, the on-deck batter.

Stewart’s two-run home run in the eighth inning gave the Mets a lead for the first time Monday. It was also his first hit of the season. He had started 0-for-12.

“I didn’t really react just because I’ve been waiting all season for that hit,” Stewart said.

Stewart’s slump occurred while the Mets waited on J.D. Martinez’s arrival. Martinez isn’t expected to be ready to play in Atlanta. However, he may meet the Mets at some point during their homestand, which starts Friday. Martinez is eligible for activation but wants more at-bats with Low-A St. Lucie and reported overall body soreness after his first games. In Martinez’s place, the Mets have rotated their regulars at designated hitter and have sometimes started Stewart.

Though he has a minor-league option, Stewart could make a compelling case to stay on the roster as a lefty bat off the bench — something the Mets could use if they want to pinch hit for Harrison Bader or a utility infielder like Joey Wendle late in games. Also, with Brett Baty’s strong play to start the season, would the Mets still want to carry both Wendle and Zack Short? Martinez will obviously squeeze Stewart out of playing time, but it’s possible Stewart can make a late case for himself sticking on the roster in a bench capacity if he is able to build off Monday’s game.

(Photo of Brandon Nimmo hugging Francisco Lindor after hitting a seventh-inning home run: Dale Zanine / USA Today)

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