Game-Ender bunt for bold Inciarte

Ender Inciarte (center) is mobbed by celebrating teammates Dansby Swanson and Freddie Freeman after Inciarte’s walk-off bunt hit Saturday. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

Ender Inciarte (center) is mobbed by celebrating teammates Dansby Swanson and Freddie Freeman after Inciarte’s walk-off bunt hit Saturday. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

The Braves didn’t hang their heads, they refused to slink away after making mistakes in a three-run Mets eighth inning that gave the division leaders a 3-0 lead.

And Ender Inciarte didn’t become conservative or conventional after getting caught stealing third base in the sixth inning – he was safe, but came off the bag – on a play many will consider reckless, given it was a scoreless game, none out, Ozzie Albies batting, Freddie Freeman on deck.

Team and center fielder undeterred, the Braves rallied behind Freeman’s two-run double in the eighth inning and Johan Camargo’s game-tying triple off closer Jeurys Familia in the ninth, the first big-league hit of the season for Camargo in his first start after opening on the disabled list.

And after Kurt Suzuki’s pinch-hit single and Charlie Culberson’s pinch-hit strikeout, Inciarte strode to the plate to face Familia with runners on the corners and one out, a sellout crowd of 41,396 on its feet including hundreds of orange T-shirt-wearing members of the Mets’ 7 Line Army fan club and many thousands of fired-up Braves fans.

And he bunted.

Inciarte did what no one expected -- not Familia, not Mets first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, not Inciarte’s teammates. He laid down a bunt to the right side, which the left-handed Gonzalez fielded and threw to the plate a split-second too late even if the catcher had held on to it as Camargo slid hands-first across the plate and the ball squirted loose.

“Very surprising. But what a great baseball move right there,” said Freeman, who was the in-the-hole hitter at the time, two batters away, but didn’t have his bat or helmet ready because he told manager Brian Snitker that Inciarte was going to end it (albeit not imagining how it went down).

“I didn’t even grab my stuff because I told Snit, ‘I believe in Ender, I’m not even going to go up there,’” Freeman said. “Next thing you know he’s bunting and I just, like, start panicking. And then all of a sudden just awesomeness happened. I don’t think anyone else would have thought about that except Ender.”

If you were wondering at home, Inciarte didn’t go to the plate intending to bunt. Not in that situation. But after further, rapid review of the situation, the two-time Gold Glove winner decided he could make something happen in a most unconventional way.

“I feel like I’ve been swinging the bat against Familia in the past,” said Inciarte, who was 2-for-4 against him before Saturday. “All along I was thinking I’m gonna swing, I’m gonna swing, I’m gonna swing. Then I walked into the box and I saw Camargo (at third base) and I looked to first and I changed my mind. I said, you know what, I can lay a bunt right here; it’s the right situation.

“So it ended up working to perfection and Camargo made a great slide at home, so that’s a great play.”

He did it against a closer who throws quite hard, not the ideal pitcher to consider bunting against.

“He’s a sinker guy. I remember last year on a sacrifice bunt against him, he broke my bat,” Inciarte said. “I’ve seen a lot of pitches from him, I know what the sinker does when he’s throwing it. I was looking for something I could just hit off the end of the bat and throw it toward first base.”

Again, no one was expecting it, which is what helped make the action so effective. That and placement, which was close to perfect. With aging Gonzalez at first base, staying near because the Mets were holding Suzuki on, a light went on in Inciarte’s head.

He didn’t tell anyone, but didn’t need to.

“I wasn’t necessarily expecting it at that moment, but I know Ender is kind of an agile, ready player at any time,” Camargo said through a translator. “So when you play with him you have to be ready for that. Fortunately I was able to take advantage of that situation and able to score off of his bunt.”

Braves manager Brian Snitker said, “It was well-placed. Great situation, and it’s perfect for a left-hander. If he can put the ball over there it’s just hard to defend when you’re (a first baseman) holding a guy on. It’s a tough play that you almost have to give up really quick as a first baseman to defend that.”

Oh, and if you thought Inciarte or the Braves would second-guess his decision in the sixth inning to steal second and third bases on consecutive pitches with Albies and Freeman due up and none out in a scoreless game, well, think again. This player and this team intend to continue pushing the envelope.

“That’s big. We’re not going to stop,” Freeman said. “That’s what’s making us good right now is the aggressiveness. Just because Ender gets thrown out at third doesn’t mean tomorrow he’s not going to try it again. We’re all for that. That’s what we’re doing this year and that’s how we won the game today, just good baseball players and good baseball plays and aggressiveness. That’s why we won.”

Inciarte had only one regret about the play at third.

“There’s nothing I would change right there because I’m more aggressive this year on the bases,” Inciarte said. “I saw something off (Mets starter Jacob) deGrom and I said, I’m going. I took second base and I said, I’m going to third. And I ended up coming off the bag (on the slide). The reason why I felt like I came off the bag was because (Mets third baseman Todd) Frazier was right on the base and I didn’t want to hurt him.

“I ended up missing the base because I tried to avoid him. The next time I’m going to have to go hard into the base and if he’s right there, I mean, it’s baseball.”