NEW YORK – Shortly after the game was over and Aaron Blair’s first win was in the books, the Braves rookie pitcher grabbed the phone out of his locker stall in the visitor’s clubhouse at Citi Field.
“I texted my fiancée first,” Blair said after Monday night’s 7-3 win against the Mets. “I haven’t taken any phone calls yet, but I have, like, 70 messages and 10 phone calls. I’m sure I’ll be up all night replying to people and talking on the phone.”
His smile made it clear that was a task he was more than willing to do, an effort he wanted to make. He’d certainly waited long enough for this. Now Blair, 24, was ready to enjoy the moment, at least for one night before getting back to work and trying to build off this first win in his 13th major league start.
“To get my first one, that was huge,” he said. “And a couple more starts (to go before the season ends), try to build off it for next year.”
Blair (l-6) had a 10.64 ERA in his past eight starts before Monday. But after working with pitching coach Roger McDowell to make significant changes in his delivery, and honing those changes in two Triple-A starts, he returned to the big-league ranks Monday and had the kind of outing the Braves were waiting for.
Against a Mets team that led the National League wild-card race and had a franchise-record 202 homers entering Monday, Blair pitched six innings and gave up four hits, two runs and one walk with four strikeouts.
With a revamped delivery — he eliminated a pronounced turn he had before — the big right-hander was better able to stay on top of and behind his pitches, locating fastballs with better command and showing an improved change-up.
“The first start after putting in a new delivery, to get my first (win), that was huge,” Blair said. “And a couple more starts (left in the season), try to build off it for next year.”
He allowed no hits and one walk to the first 12 batters on a team that had won 11 of its past 14 games and outpitched the Mets’ ace, Noah Syndergaard.
“I was talking to Roger about it,” Braves interim manager Brian Snitker said. “All the hard work that he’s put in, making changes and sticking to it, not reverting back in stressful situations – it’s nice to see him rewarded for it. All the hard work that these guys have been doing for two or three weeks — it was nice to get a win out of it, his first one.”
Blair had a no-hitter until Curtis Granderson’s two-out single in the fourth inning, and T.J. Rivera hit the next pitch – a 91-mph fastball – over the left-field wall. It was the 11th homer allowed by Blair in a 32-inning inning span over seven starts, but the Braves still had a 5-2 lead.
Instead of coming apart after that sequence, this time Blair got back in his groove. He got a groundout to end the inning, and after giving up a leadoff double in the fifth, Blair struck out the next two batters and retired Jose Reyes on a pop-up.
“That (fifth) was the inning that I was really impressed with,” Snitker said. “He gives up the leadoff double and then gets two strikeouts and a pop-up. That’s the one that kind of sold me on the whole thing right there. If it was going to fall apart, I thought right there was where it was going to, and he stepped up and that was nice to see.”
Other than the fourth inning, no more than one Mets runners reached base in any of Blair’s six innings.
Blair became the first Atlanta pitcher ever to make four starts against the same opponent in his first 13 career starts, and before Monday he was 0-2 with an 8.04 ERA in three against the Mets. He was staked to a lead Monday and got the kind of “shutdown” innings the Braves have preached but too often haven’t received from young starters this season.
“That was huge for the team, taking a 2-0 lead and a 3-0 lead, then just going out there and throwing strikes, continuing to get people out,” Blair said. “Starting with the first of the two rehab starts that I had, every time I went out there I got more comfortable with the new delivery. I was ready for it. It’s helped.”
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