Atlanta Braves' Jason Heyward slides past New York Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud to score on a double by Andrelton Simmons during the seventh inning of a baseball game Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
As commanding a lead as the Braves have in the NL East, they haven’t fared well against the Mets this season, and Citi Field has not been a happy place. On the Braves previous trip here, they watched Tim Hudson lost for the season to a gruesome ankle injury.
The Braves arrived Tuesday riding the momentum of a 19-3 run since their previous series here, having doubled their lead in the NL East to 16 games. They got more good work from Brandon Beachy, but the night turned on one stray pitch and a Marlon Byrd two-run homer, as the Mets claimed the series opener 5-3.
The Braves rallied with three runs on a bases-clearing double from Andrelton Simmons in the seventh to draw within 4-3 but would get no closer. Ike Davis gave the Mets some second-deck insurance with a solo home run off Luis Ayala in the eighth.
“Yeah, I felt like I threw a pretty good pitch there,” Beachy said of Byrd’s homer. “He just hit it. It was a good job by him. It might have been a strike, but I don’t think it was up. I didn’t hang it. Maybe I should have thrown it in the dirt, probably should have, but he hit it, hit it hard. That’s what happens.”
The loss assured that the Braves’ streak of seven consecutive series victories since their last trip to New York is over. The Braves will need to win the finale of the two-game series Wednesday to salvage a split.
The Braves are 7-8 on the season against the Mets, their only losing record against an NL East team this season. The Braves are 4-4 at Citi Field.
“They’ve got two young guys that have come up and done outstanding,” said Jason Heyward, referring to Tuesday’s winner Zack Wheeler, and the NL’s starter for this year’s All-Star game Matt Harvey. “They always put up good at-bats to me, at the plate. They’re tough outs. And they didn’t have David Wright in there now. I think it’s a really good team, always have.”
The Braves didn’t score the first six innings against Wheeler, a Smyrna native, who is now 3-0 with a 2.89 ERA in three starts against his hometown team. The Braves started to chip away at him with two outs in the seventh inning with a Paul Janish double and a Joey Terdoslavich walk. Heyward then worked a nine-pitch walk to load the bases and chase Wheeler.
That’s when reliever Carlos Torres fell behind Simmons 3-1 and watched him double to left to pull the Braves within 4-3.
“I thought Wheeler did a nice job, not giving us anything to hit,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “We had a tough time with him today. He’s pretty darn good. We couldn’t figure him out.”
Beachy limited the Mets to one unearned run over the first five innings and retired 10 in a row at one point, but he watched small ball turn big in a three-run sixth. Eric Young Jr.’s bunt single started it and he scored after a double steal and an errant throw from Brian McCann.
Byrd doubled the Mets lead from 2-0 to 4-0 with one swing at a 2-2 change-up from Beachy. The Sprayberry High graduate had his 21st home run of the year, a new career high.
Beachy gave up four runs in six innings but the line looked worse than the effort. Two of the five hits off him were bunt singles. One of the runs was unearned, giving Beachy a streak of four consecutive quality starts since his seven-run outing in his first start back from Tommy John surgery against the Rockies.
“I’m about two pitches away from having those five starts go pretty much how I’d like them to, but I can’t have those two pitches back, one of them being tonight,” said Beachy, now 2-1 with a 4.50 ERA. “The first five innings were good. Hopefully I can carry that into the sixth and seventh and eighth.”
Simmons had made an uncharacteristic throwing error in the first inning, his first since July 21, and Ike Davis singled past Freddie Freeman to drive in the game’s first run.
The Braves haven’t been able to acquire the ace they might have wanted for the top of their rotation, but they secured the depth they needed Monday with the signing of free agent right-hander Gavin Floyd.
One week after the Braves were eliminated by the Dodgers in a four-game division series, Braves general manager Frank Wren met with the team’s beat writers and discussed the 2013 season and the team’s needs going into the offseason.