On a night with two major league debuts, lights-out starting pitching from both teams, and inspiring performances from career substitutes, none of it mattered much once Kevin Pillar doubled over after taking a fastball to the face in the seventh inning. The Mets beat the Braves 3-1 Monday night at Truist Park in a game that went down to the wire, though many players from both teams seemed more interested in ending the game than playing to win once Pillar left under his own power.
Neither team put up much hard-hitting offense, though not from a lack of trying. Whether a result of deadened balls, a humidor, or oppressive wind tunnels through the stadium, many hits by both teams fell unexpectedly short of the outfield fence. Pillar, who in the first six innings was the Mets most valuable offensive contributor, fell victim to this first. He connected on a pitch that looked like it would leave the ballpark, but died as it approached the warning track in left field, while Freddie Freeman launched a ball in the bottom of the inning that looked equally destined for the seats before settling into Pillar’s glove on the right field warning track.
Taijuan Walker started the game with a seven-pitch first inning, getting Ronald Acuña and Marcel Ozuna to pop out on fastballs down the middle. He continued mowing down the Braves lineup the first time through the order, his only blemish a Max Fried grounder that squeaked under the glove of José Peraza for the Braves first hit of the game. Walker struck out Acuña on a 3-2 fastball that dotted the outside corner to end the inning, but spent the at-bat wincing in pain. He left the game soon after complaining of tightness on his left side, and he finished his outing after three innings and 33 pitches.
Walker now joins Jacob deGrom, Carlos Carrasco, and Noah Syndergaard on the list of Mets starters with injury problems. Walker up to this point has been the revelation on a very good Mets starting staff, recording a 3-1 record and a 2.20 ERA through his first seven starts of the season.
Sean Reid-Foley entered the game in the bottom of the fourth and proved even more dominant than Walker. Reid-Foley struck out two in a 1-2-3 fourth inning, and repeated with a 1-2-3 fifth. He struck out five of his first eight batters and got Acuña to pop out to end the sixth and complete three perfect innings.
The Mets offense, meanwhile, proved punchless until the sixth when they found their first true scoring opportunity. Pillar became the first Met to touch second base with a two-out double down the left field line, and Jonathan Villar followed with an infield hit that nicked off of the glove of a diving Austin Riley. José Peraza couldn’t drive Pillar in, however, harmlessly flying out to Acuña in right.
Tomás Nido smacked an 0-2 pitch in the right-center field gap for a leadoff double in the top of the seventh, knocking Fried out of the game and giving the Mets their best scoring opportunity of the night. Pinch-hitting for Reid-Foley, James McCann immediately capitalized with a double of his own to drive in Nido and give the Mets a 1-0 lead. Johneshwy Fargas had the first productive plate appearance of his major league career by bunting McCann over to third base. A Lindor walk and steal put runners on second and third with one out, and following an Alonso strikeout and Smith intentional walk, Braves reliever Jacob Webb hit Pillar in the face with a fastball to force in a run.
Pillar lied hunched over in the batter's box with blood pouring out of his nose, and was able to rise after a minute of treatment from the Mets’ training staff. Khalil Lee made his major league debut replacing Pillar on the base paths, and Braves manager Brian Snitker took Webb out of the game as the reliever looked emotionally distressed as a result the play. Though not entering the season as a regular starter, Pillar took up the center field mantle in Brandon Nimmo’s absence and became a key contributor to the team’s recent success. As Braves employees cleaned up blood near home plate, the Braves’ position players gathered in the infield and stood respectfully towards the Mets dugout wishing Pillar the best. Villar ended the inning with a groundout.
Trevor May gave up the first run to the Braves with an eighth-inning home run by Riley, and a Guillermo Heredia double tagged Pablo Sandoval as the game-tying run with one out. Both Sandoval and Ehire Adrianza smoked balls to the right side, but both hits found Mets gloves as May escaped his jam.
Fargas recorded his first major league hit with a two-out rbi bloop double in the eighth that scored Nido from second. The ball fell weakly in right field, but Acuña misjudged the fly and let the ball get by him, allowing Nido to score and Fargas to take second base. With four regular starters on the injured list, the bench mob picked up the slack for the starters once again, accounting for six of nine hits and two of three runs. Nido had an especially excellent night, recording the first three-hit game of his career and leading the Mets pitching staff through seven scoreless innings from behind the plate.
Facing the heart of the Braves order in the bottom of the ninth, Edwin Díaz got Acuña to roll over a weak ground ball for the first out of the inning. After a walk to Freeman, Díaz forced Ozuna and Ozzie Albies to fly out to end the game.
Pillar tweeted out his well-being after the game, and the team reported he was receiving tests at a hospital. The Braves host the Mets once again tomorrow at 7:20, this time without a plan from the Mets side on who will start the game or play in the outfield.
*illar of the game: Kevin Pillar
Even outside of the hit-by-pitch, Pillar had a pretty excellent game, hitting a double in the sixth inning and just missing a home run in the first. He also recorded what is likely the most painful RBI of his career, as his hit-by-pitch forced in McCann from third for what turned out to be the game-winning run.
Win Probability Added
Big Mets winner: Sean Reid-Foley, +20.3% WPA
Big Mets loser: José Peraza, -14.2% WPA
Mets pitchers: 54.4% WPA
Mets hitters: -4.4% WPA
Teh aw3s0mest play: James McCann pinch-hit RBI double
Teh sux0rest play: Kevin Pillar hit by pitch. Not statistically, but still.