Braves rally late to take lead, but lose to Mets in 11 innings

Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Anthony Varvaro (38) meets with teammates, including Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman (5), and Braves second baseman Tommy La Stella (7) after allowing an 11th-inning double to New York Mets Juan Lagares. The Mets Ruben Tejada hit a game-wining, walk-off RBI single to lift the Mets to a 4-3 win over the first-place Braves.

Credit: Kathy Willens / AP

Credit: Kathy Willens / AP

Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Anthony Varvaro (38) meets with teammates, including Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman (5), and Braves second baseman Tommy La Stella (7) after allowing an 11th-inning double to New York Mets Juan Lagares. The Mets Ruben Tejada hit a game-wining, walk-off RBI single to lift the Mets to a 4-3 win over the first-place Braves.

NEW YORK — The last time Mike Minor pitched as well as he did Monday, the Braves scored no runs for him and he lost. Monday against the Mets, he allowed two hits and two runs in seven innings and looked like he'd get another loss.

But that was before Mets starter Daisuke Matsuzaka left the game and things quickly got interesting.

Trailing 2-0 after seven innings, the Braves scored three in the eighth, gave up the lead on a Curtis Granderson off Luis Avilan in the bottom of the inning, then lost 4-3 in 11 innings to open a four-game series at Citi Field.

Juan Lagares doubled off Braves reliever Anthony Varvaro with one out in the 11th. An intentional walk and a long fly out later, Ruben Tejada singled up the middle for the walk-off win, handing the Braves their second consecutive loss since ending a nine-game winning streak.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was ejected for arguing an overturned out call at second base in the Mets’ ninth inning, which he called “one of the worst calls I’ve ever seen.”

Braves All-Star Freddie Freeman got the eighth-inning rally started with a two-out double off reliever Vic Black and scored on a wild pitch that nearly hit Jason Heyward in the head. Chris Johnson followed with a tying double off the center-field wall, and rookie catcher Christian Bethancourt came through with a two-out single that gave the Braves a 3-2 lead.

Bethancourt made the Mets pay for walking fellow rookie Tommy La Stella with first base open and Johnson at second base.

“You know they’re going to walk him there, with a base open and a righty coming up, righty against righty,” Bethancourt said. “That’s what he wanted to do. But it kind of motivated me, made me want it more, because they’re walking the guy to face me. I really wanted it for my team. I was just trying to do my job, trying to select a good pitch and try to get the base hit.”

The Braves got the lead and were poised for their third win in 38 games in which they trailed after the seventh inning, and their second such win against the Mets in eight days. Only Avilan couldn’t protect the lead, giving up a two-out homer to Granderson in the bottom of the inning on a full-count fastball over the middle of the plate. He twice shook off Bethancourt when he called for pitches away and Avilan wanted to go inside.

“I thought it was going to be the right pitch; he thought it was going to be the right pitch,” Bethancourt said. “But right down the middle we can’t do anything. He took a good swing, got the home run, you’ve got to give him credit. That’s Avilan’s pitch. Sinker. He gave up the home run with that pitch. I mean, he fell on his best pitch. We (can live) with that.”

That washed away a potential win for Minor, who got no decision to run his string of winless starts to nine. He gave up two hits, two runs and two walks (one intentional) with four strikeouts in seven innings. Travis d’Arnaud’s two-out RBI double in the second inning and David Wright’s two-out homer in the third gave the Mets a 2-0 lead.

Minor retired the last 13 batters he faced after Wright’s homer.

“He had a chance to sneak a win there, after one of, probably the best outings we’ve seen him in a long time,” Gonzalez said. He gives up the solo home run to Wright and another run, but he battled, kept us in the ballgame. We come back and score three. It’s just a shame that he doesn’t get a W. Nevertheless he had a great outing.”

Minor has allowed seven home runs in his past five starts, 14 homers in 13 starts this season, and 21 homers in 19 starts (116 1/3 innings since Aug. 31, 2013. He’s 2-9 with an ERA of nearly 4.50 in those 19 starts. But he was pleased with a strong outing and progress made Monday.

“I think it was just a bad pitch and (Wright) hit a home run,” he said. “He’s a good player. But I was helping myself, getting ground balls and letting the outfielders get some work out there. They were hitting a lot of balls off the end of the bat and going right to our outfielders.

“I had some key bulletin points that I wanted to do – keep the ball down, pitch more into the lefties, and that’s the way we did. We got a lot of ground balls to Freddie with just the first two guys (Granderson and Daniel Murphy).”

Although it didn’t drive in a run, there was no more meaningful hit for the Braves in the eighth inning than Heyward’s single off left-hander Josh Edgin, which snapped Heyward’s 0-for-37 string against lefties and came three pitches after Edgin’s 94-mph fastball came frighteningly close to hitting him in the head.

It was here at Citi Field in August when Heyward was hit in the face by lefty Jon Niese’s 90-mph fastball, which broke his right jaw and required surgery that sidelined him for a month. Heyward still wears a guard attachment on his batting helmet to protect the right side of his face, and had a majors-worst .128 average (11-for-86) against lefties before the single.

“I don’t think the ball was on purpose or anything,” Gonzalez said of Edgin’s pitch, “especially when you’ve got a man on third base. But that was a good at-bat. Hopefully that will get him going a little bit.”

The pitch that whizzed by Heyward’s head went to the backstop and allowed Freeman to score and cut the lead to 2-1. Heyward singled to center and scored the tying run when Johnson hit a double that caromed off the center-field scoreboard above the 408 (feet) sign at spacious Citi Field.

After getting timely hits throughout a season-high nine-game winning streak that ended Sunday, the Braves went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position in Sunday’s streak-ending 3-1 loss to Arizona, and were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position over seven scoreless innings against Matsuzaka. This coming six days after they roughed him up for five runs in five innings.

They failed to score after Justin Upton’s leadoff double in the sixth inning. Heyward lined out, Johnson flied out and La Stella hit a nubber of a ground out in front of the plate to end the inning.

Gonzalez was ejected in the ninth inning for arguing after umpires overturned an out call at second base on a controversial play that left Gonzalez incensed and still in a state of near-disbelief over the interpretation more than an hour later.

Baseball’s new video-replay rules in effect this season say the traditional “neighborhood play” at second base – where a fielder takes a throw and doesn’t necessarily have his foot on the base when he throws to first to attempt to complete a double play. The purpose of not making that play reviewable is that baseball officials agree the neighborhood play serves to protect a fielder from the runner barreling into second base.

In the Braves’ view it was a neighborhood play when third baseman Chris Johnson fielded a Juan Lagares bunt in the ninth inning and threw to shortstop Andrelton Simmons covering second. His foot came off the base before he threw to first base, a step too late to complete a double play.

But after second-base umpire Sean Barber called Eric Campbell out at second, Mets manager Terry Collins convinced the umpires that the play could be challenged, arguing that it wasn’t a neighborhood play because there was no real chance for a play at first to complete a double play (when in fact the play at first base was actually close).

After the umpires talked it over, they decided it could be reviewed and they made the call to MLB headquarters in Manhattan. One minute and 57 seconds later, the called was overturned and Campbell was called safe at second.

“It’s one of the worst calls I’ve ever seen,” said Gonzalez, who argued at the time and said again afterward the game that it was clearly a neighborhood play. “Luckily it didn’t cost us the game there. But whoever interpreted it in the headquarters for video replay … it may be one of the worst calls. They called that the (throw) pulled him off the bag. That couldn’t have been a better throw.

“You know what, they got away with it (because) we didn’t lose the game there. But it’s a bad interpretation.”

Suddenly the Mets had two on with none out against reliever Shae Simmons. Gonzalez immediately came onto the field to dispute the ruling and got tossed.

The pressure was on Shae Simmons, and the rookie came through again. Lucas Duda hit a bloop to left-center that Andrelton Simmons tried to catch over his shoulder while running. The ball fell to the ground, but Simmons alertly threw to third base for the first out of the inning.

There were still runners at first and second when Travis d’Arnaud hit a grounder that Johnson fielded before stepping on third base for the second out, his throw to first too late for a double play. One walk later, later, Eric Young Jr. grounded into a 3-6 force to end the inning with the score 3-3.

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