NEW YORK – Ender Inciarte has shown alertness and multiple times this season, including a now-famous deke play when the Braves center fielder made Philadelphia veteran Carlos Ruiz think Inciarte lost a ball in the lights, only to catch it and double-up Ruiz before he could scramble back to first base.
On Saturday night, Inciarte did it again, this time with a couple of smart, bold plays that singlehandedly created the decisive run in the eighth inning of a 4-3 win against the Mets at Citi Field, where the Braves rallied from a 3-0 deficit after four innings to clinch the series and match their season-high four-game winning streak.
“Just unbelievable instincts — you can’t teach something like that,” Braves interim manager Brian Snitker said. “That’s two of the gutsiest great baserunning plays I’ve ever seen in my 40 years (in pro ball).”
After Inciarte hustled on a leadoff double in the eighth, he sprinted to third on Jeff Francoeur’s fly-out when right fielder Curtis Granderson casually threw the ball to the infield. Inciarte clapped and shouted after he slid into third base safely.
“That was huge, man,” Francoeur said. “I mean, I lined out and I kind of put my head down, and I turn around and all of a sudden I see him tagging and I’m like, what? Did I miss something? Heads-up baserunning. That was huge.”
Moments later, to complete his lesson in brazen baserunning, Inciarte raced home to score when Addison Reed’s wild pitch bounced just far enough from catcher Rene Rivera as Tyler Flowers hit with two outs.
“That’s the most fun I’ve had in a ballgame, so it was good that we got that win,” Inciarte said. “I’ve been timing a lot of outfielders. You see the body language, what he’s trying to do, so when I saw (Granderson) taking that nice and easy throw, I was going right away. It was worth a shot.”
And scoring on the wild pitch?
“I was just being aggressive, (going on) anything in the dirt so we could score that run,” Inciarte said, smiling. “I probably won’t go seven out of 10 times on that one, but today I had high energy, so I was going.”
Inciarte, too, noticed the level of excitement Saturday night in the dugout.
“Everybody. The whole game,” he said. “We were down by three and started scoring and scoring…. I feel like that’s the player I’ve been always, but I also feel like here I’ve been growing a little day by day, getting a little more confidence with my teammates and everything, but I like to scream and bring that energy to every game. Hopefully today is going to be the start of huge things for the team.”
Francoeur and Flowers hit home runs to help fuel the Braves’ really, and rookie starter Aaron Blair didn’t get a win but showed a lot of improvement in working six innings and allowing five hits — including two solo homers — three runs and one walk.
But after his teammates helped pull the Braves even, it was Inciarte who brought them across the finish line first.
“I tell you what, when Ender scored I think that was the most excitement that I saw in that dugout all year,” Francoeur said. “I mean, everybody was fired up. It was fun. You’re playing up here in front of 40,000.”
The Mets threatened in the ninth against reliever Jim Johnson, but again Inciarte rose to the occasion.
Wilmer Flores reached on a fielding error by shortstop Erick Aybar to start the inning, then tried to score on James Loney’s double. He was cut down at the plate when Inciarte fielded the ball toward left-center and fired a strong throw to Aybar, who made a perfect relay throw to the plate for the tag by Flowers.
Johnson hit Alejandro De Aza with a pitch to put runners on the corners before Granderson struck out looking for the final out.
“That’s four in a row for us, and I think offensively we’ve got a little thing going,” ,” said Francoeur, who homered off left-hander Steven Matz with two out in the sixth to cut the lead to 3-2, after Chase d’Arnaud’s two-out RBI single in the fifth drove in the Braves’ first run. “We’re not getting crazy, 9-10 runs, but we’re scoring when we need to.
“Today was fun, and we’ve got our ace (Julio Teheran) going tomorrow with a chance to sweep. You’ve got to feel good.”
Left-handed starters were 12-4 with a 2.09 ERA in 25 starts against the Braves before Saturday, and Mets rookie Matz as 7-2 with a 1.81 ERA in his previous 10 starts, including wins in two starts against the Braves in that span.
The Mets staked him to a 3-0 lead. Yoenis Cespedes hit a two-out homer in the third inning, Flores homered in the fourth, and Loney followed the Flores homer with a triple and scored on a sacrifice fly.
Before Saturday, Matz had been 6-0 in seven starts when the Mets scored three or more runs while he was in the game.