NEW YORK – “Big Sexy” came through with another age-defying performance Wednesday to please fans of both his current team, the Braves, and his former team, the Mets. In the end there was no decision for affable veteran Bartolo Colon, but no joy for the home nine at Citi Field. Matt Kemp saw to the latter.
Kemp’s two-run double with two out in the 12th inning lifted the Braves to a 3-1 win against the Mets at Citi Field. Kemp already had two doubles in the game before he made the Mets pay dearly for walking Freddie Freeman intentionally with two out to load the bases for the Braves cleanup hitter.
“You want to come up big in those situations,” said Kemp, who had struck out twice with a runner at third base and less than two out in Monday’ 6-0 opening-day loss. “I know the other day I couldn’t hit with a runner in scoring position or a runner on third base. I was just trying to redeem myself, put us up on the board in the W column.”
Colon, 43, the oldest player in the majors, pitched six innings of two-hit ball and the Braves bullpen, which gave up six runs Monday, cranked out six scoreless innings Wednesday including two apiece from Jose Ramirez and closer Jim Johnson.
Kemp’s third double of the night was a shot down the left-field line off right-hander Rafael Montero, and Kemp pumped his fists as he stood atop second base after driving in the second and third runs of the Braves’ season.
“That’s what he does, knocks runs in,” said manager Brian Snitker, whose Braves will go for a series win Thursday when they send left-hander Jaime Garcia to the mound for his Braves debut against Matt Harvey. “(Kemp has) been working real hard. But them guys who knock in a hundred runs, they have a knack for doing that.
“That’s why he’s hitting cleanup, too. Pitch around Freddie or whatever and that’s OK. (Kemp) got big hits for us last year, and he’s our guy.”
The Braves had been 1-for-15 with runners in scoring position for the season before Kemp came through. They had runners on the corners with one out in the 11th when Adonis Garcia grounded into a double play. Garcia drove in their only run with a game-tying double in the seventh.
In the 12th, Kurt Suzuki hit a leadoff single and Ender Inciarte drew a one-out walk to reach base for the first time in two games. After Dansby Swanson’s ground-out advanced both runners, the Mets walked Freeman, who had three hits in Monday’s season opener but was 0-for-5 with four ground-ball outs and a strikeout Wednesday.
“It could be a lose-lose (for opposing teams) in that situation,” Kemp said. “You’ve got Freddie, you’ve got me, you’ve got (Nick) Markakis, you’ve got (Brandon) Phillips – the lineup is extended, especially with Phillips and Adonis. The lineup goes on and on. For us, if that happens, try to come up with those hits.”
The unsung hero for Atlanta was Ramirez, who pitched the ninth and 10th innings and worked out of trouble in each. After allowing a leadoff walk in the ninth, Ramirez induced a double-play grounder from Yoenis Cespedes. And after Jay Bruce doubled with one out in the 10th Ramirez intentionally walked Lucas Duda before striking out Travis d’Arnaud and pinch-hitter Ty Kelly.
Colon, the 20th-year veteran making his Braves debut, allowed just two hits and one walk in six innings, though one of the hits was a Jay Bruce leadoff homer in the fifth inning to give the Mets a 1-0 lead. Bruce hit a 2-2 sinker after watching a previous borderline two-strike sinker that was called a ball.
Mets starter Jacob deGrom limited the Braves to two hits and one run with six strikeouts in six innings, giving Mets starters 13 strikeouts with one walk and seven hits allowed in 12 scoreless innings in the series. All of deGrom’s strikeouts came in the first four innings including five on called third strikes.
The Braves scored a tying run in the seventh after Markakis’ one-out triple off reliever Hansel Robles. Phillips walked and Garcia hit a one-out double to drive in the first run of the season for Atlanta in its 16th inning.
They had an opportunity to take their first lead of the season later that inning, but failed to score again after loading the bases with one out.
Colon was feted with a video tribute on the center-field scoreboard before the first pitch and received a standing ovation from Mets fans when he came to bat in the third inning. This after getting a standing ovation during player introductions on opening day.
“I definitely enjoyed it,” Colon said through a translator. “I enjoyed everything about opening week, especially the reception I got from the fans. I was really happy with the way I pitched today. But I definitely want to show appreciation for the way the fans received me and gave me that applause and showed their appreciation.”
Colon pitched as he did for the Mets during the past three seasons – effectively and efficiently. The 43-year-old allowed two hits, one run and one walk with six strikeouts in six innings, throwing 53 strikes in 80 pitches and only exiting because the Braves loaded the bases with one out in a 1-1 game when his spot in the order came up in the seventh inning.
“Oh my God, he threw great,” Snitker said of Colon, who had an 8.66 ERA in six spring-training starts, and said after each of them not to worry, that he was just working on things to prepare for the season.
“He kept saying all spring, ‘I’ll be ready when the lights come on,’” Snitker said, smiling. “I mean, he was dotting it up (locating pitches with pinpoint accuracy) tonight. If we hadn’t hit for him he was good to go back out in the seventh. We asked him after the sixth, whatcha got? He said, I’ve got three more (innings) left.” (Laughs.)
Pinch-hitter Emilio Bonifacio replaced him and worked a full count before striking out against left-hander Jerry Blevins, who induced an inning-ending groundout from Ender Inciarte.
Colon, who’ll turn 44 in May, is the oldest pitcher to start a game for the Braves since Dennis Martinez made five starts during his age-44 season in 1998.
He signed a one-year, $12.5 million free-agent contract with the Braves after going 44-34 with a 3.90 ERA in 98 games (95 starts) for the Mets over the previous three seasons. He was 15-8 with a 3.43 ERA in 2016 in his fourth All-Star season.
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