The Mets split the week’s first two games by scoring five runs. On Wednesday, they scored five runs against Morton, of whom Snitker said: “He just wasn’t sharp.”
Morton struck out six in five innings. Trouble was, the Mets who didn’t whiff kept hitting the ball over the wall. Eduardo Escobar hoisted a first-pitch fastball 426 feet in the second inning. Francisco Lindor whomped a 2-2 fastball into the right-field seats in the third. Mark Canha hit a 3-2 curve into the first row in left.
Lindor’s homer essentially decided the game and the series. He came to bat after Morton walked catcher Tomas Nido, the Mets’ ninth-place hitter, and yielded a single to Brando Nimmo. Lindor swung through a one fastball. Two pitches later, Morton tried another.
Said Morton, in his usual self-deprecating mode: “2-2 heater, inner half, belt high.”
Then, recalling Escobar’s homer, also on a fastball: “Those two swings, that’s four runs right there.”
Canha’s homer came in the sixth off Morton’s 102nd pitch. Perhaps you’re thinking, “That’s a lot of pitches on a July afternoon in Hotlanta.” And it was. Through five innings, Morton needed 94 pitches to record 15 outs. That’s 6.1 pitches per out. That’s inefficient. The Braves aren’t paying him $20 million to be inefficient.
To be fair, Morton is 38. He’s coming off surgery to repair the fractured fibula he sustained in Game 1 of the World Series. He threw 16 more pitches that famous night, recording three outs on a broken leg. Nobody denies that Morton isn’t a fine and focused fellow, and there have been seasons when he has been an upper-crust pitcher. This isn’t among those.
The Mets’ three homers brought Morton’s tater tally to 15, which puts him among the National League’s top 10. Only in late June did his ERA slide under 5.00; Wednesday’s five runs pushed it from 4.21 to 4.45. The Braves are 10-8 in his starts. By way of contrast, they’re 13-5 when Max Fried pitches.
Thus was Game 3 of this hugely anticipated series won 7-3 by the Mets. Thus was the series itself taken by a visiting club that, since the Braves got good again in 2018, had won only one series here and gone 13-21 at Truist Park.
The Mets left Cobb County having increased their lead in the National League to 2-1/2 games, which doesn’t mean all that much in July, but it gave them a bit more reason to believe they won’t collapse in this season the way many of the predecessors have. Oh, and Max Scherzer returned from injury to beat the Braves (and Fried) on Monday. Oh, and Jacob deGrom is due back soon.
The Braves and Mets have 12 more scheduled meetings, the NL East schedule having been far from front-loaded. The division is there for either to win, and the one who doesn’t finish first almost surely will make the playoffs. This series did, however, slow the Braves’ roll of the past six weeks.
Morton: “We’re playing well. They’re playing really well.”
Also: “They’re a different team to pitch to. They’re scrappy.”
In no way is this meant to cheapen the Braves’ four consecutive East titles, but none of those seasons produced a classic race. They didn’t climb above .500 last year until August, and still they won by 6-1/2 games. Yes, the 2019 Nationals won the World Series as a wild card, but they trailed the Braves by nine games in the regular season’s final week.
This September could be much tighter. Buck Showalter is the difference-making manager the Mets have rarely had. This club has won its division only twice since 1988, which is hard to believe. But these Mets just passed a test. Had they lost three consecutive here, they no longer would be in first place. Doubt would have been splashed across the pages of the New York tabloids.
Said Snitker: “What have we got, 12 more games with them? They’re a good team. These are probably going to be good games.”