All too often these days, it seems like a pitcher making a bid for a no-hitter will lose control of the game shortly after surrendering his first hit. That's why you can't blame Mets fans for being nervous when Jason Heyward led off the seventh inning with an infield single on a chopper to the first base side of the pitcher's mound.
If only Lucas Duda had stayed back on first base instead of charging for the ball, Matt Harvey would have been able to flip to first for the out and resume his battle for immortality. Instead, Heyward was on first base, and Freddie Freeman was at home plate as the tying run.
The "crisis" seemed to be avoided when Harvey blew a full count fastball past Freeman while Heyward took off for second. Freeman had struck out, and Heyward was thrown out at second base by John Buck. After Harvey retired Chris Johnson on a ground ball, the Mets' ace was through seven and appeared to be well on the way to victory.
That turned out to be true, only not in the manner that most spectators expected.
The first surprise was that, unlike on Friday night, the Mets would score some insurance runs. David Carpenter came on to pitch the eighth for Atlanta, and he loaded the bases by plunking Buck with an 0-2 pitch after Marlon Byrd and Duda had already reached on a double and an intentional pass, respectively.
With one out, Terry Collins subbed in Jordany Valdespin to hit for Juan Lagares and got a good result when Carpenter walked the pinch hitter to drive in a run and make the score 3-0 Mets. Omar Quintanilla followed up with a sac fly, and the game appeared in hand.
The second surprise of the afternoon was that New York's pitching would fall apart not in the seventh inning, but in the eighth. Harvey started the frame by walking Gerald Laird, and Dan Uggla followed with a "single" that should have been turned into at least one out by David Wright. After Andrelton Simmons reached on a more traditional single, Collins decided that Harvey was done for the day.
LaTroy Hawkins entered the game and performed admirably. He did allow a two-RBI single to Jordan Schafer, but it was sandwiched around two key outs: a strike out of Brian McCann and a ground out by Justin Upton. With Heyward now coming to the plate, Hawkins was replaced by Scott Rice, but Collins' favorite reliever could not get the job done. Heyward ripped a double down the right field line that appeared to go right through Duda's glove at first base.
Fortunately, only one run scored on the play, and Collins was able to bring in Bobby Parnell to pitch to Chris Johnson after an intentional walk of Freeman. Parnell struck out Johnson to end the Atlanta rally and keep the score 4-3 with the Mets in front. One inning later, Parnell pitched around another defensive miscue by Wright to earn the save.
All this excitement was preceded by six innings of no-hit Harvey pitching that caused even Braves supporters to swoon with lust. Harvey got the day started by blowing a 100-MPH fastball past Jason Heyward in the first inning. That seemed to be a sign of things to come, but in the third inning, Harvey walked both Uggla and Schafer to set up a scoring chance for Atlanta.
Not to worry, though. Harvey whiffed Reed Johnson on a turbo slider to end that threat, and followed it up with five straight strikeouts between the fourth and fifth innings. He certainly seemed comfortable with his slider and curveball, because only one of those six consecutive punch-outs came on a heater, and Harvey hardly seemed to use his changeup at all.
Harvey ended the day with 13 strikeouts overall, and today is probably the best he's ever looked with his secondary stuff.
The Mets would support their ace with a fun scoring play against Braves rookie Alex Wood in the third inning. With two outs, Daniel Murphy reached on a single and Wright walked to set the table. Byrd was up next and he rolled what appeared to be a routine ground ball to the left side of the infield. However, third baseman Johnson double-pumped on the throw, which gave a hustling Byrd enough time to beat out the play. As if that wasn't enough of a shock, Murphy came storming around third in an attempt to score, and he just barely slid in safely ahead of Freeman's throw to the plate.
With Wood struggling with his pitch count (he's been working out of the bullpen until today) and an apparent hangnail on his finger, Cory Rasmus was brought in after just three inning. The right-handed reliever was rudely greeted by John Buck, who crushed a Rasmus slider into the right field seats to give the Mets a 2-0 lead.
The Mets are back in action tonight, as the night cap of the doubleheader will start a 7:10 ET. Zack Wheeler will of course be making his MLB debut while Paul Maholm takes the bump for the Braves.
SB Nation Coverage
Win Probability Added
Big winners: Bobby Parnell 38.3%, Matt Harvey 25.1%, Marlon Byrd 17.3%
Big losers: Scott Rice -19.4%, Collin Cowgill -7.6%
Teh aw3s0mest play: Bobby Parnell strikes out Chris Johnson to end the eighth inning, 19.6%
Teh sux0rest play: Jason Heyward RBI double down the right field line in the eighth inning, -16.7%
Total pitcher WPA: 49.4%
Total batter WPA: 0.6%
GWRBI!: Omar Quintanilla's sac fly in the eighth inning