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Taijuan Walker, offensive outburst lead Mets to victory over Braves

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The Mets enjoy as decisive a victory as they’ve had all season.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at New York Mets Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The infinite monkey theorem suggests that if a monkey mashes keys on a keyboard at random for an infinite period of time, it will eventually type out a perfect recreation of the complete works of William Shakespeare. By the same logic, if you put in the types of less than ideal lineups that the Mets have been throwing out there over and over again, eventually they would experience a random offensive explosion. Friends, we just saw a monkey produce the works of Shakespeare, as the ReplaceMets scored a baker’s dozen against the Braves en route to a 13-2 victory.

While the main attention will be on all the runs and all the homers, it shouldn’t distract us from acknowledging and celebrating Taijuan Walker’s triumphant return from the injured list. Number 99 has been huge for the Mets this year prior to his injury, and he looked to pick up where he left off in facing the Braves in the series opener (which was originally supposed to happen on Friday, but which was postponed due to rain). While Ronald Acuña Jr. greeted him to start the game with a leadoff single up the middle, Walker quickly rebounded by striking out Freddie Freeman. He then experienced a helping hand from one of the many improved elements of the team’s defense this year: throwing out runners trying to steal. Acuña attempted to swipe second with Ozzie Albies at the plate, but Tomas Nido made a strong one-hop throw, and Francisco Lindor applied the tag to get the second out of the frame. Walker then struck out Albies to end the inning, and it was already clear that he was back in form.

The Mets didn’t wait too long to get the scoring started, as following two strikeouts to start Braves starting pitcher Ian Anderson’s night, first baseman James McCann (yeah, it’s still taking some getting used to) came up to the plate and hit a 2-1 pitch to right-center field for a solo homer. It was a quick lead for the Mets, and the beginning of a very solid night at the plate for McCann. Following a second inning of work in which Walker was once again able to work past a leadoff hit (thanks in part to a shining defensive play by Jonathan Villar to end the frame), the Amazins went to work to try to add more runs to the board. After two quick strikeouts, Jose Peraza managed a two-out bloop single. Cameron Maybin, still searching for his first Mets hit, was then hit by a pitch on the elbow to put runners on first and second for the pitcher’s spot. Due to his injury, Walker had not been swinging the bat prior to his IL trip; while he certainly seemed to be healthy enough to be pitching, he also seemingly continued to resist swinging the bat, as he’d either take the pitches thrown to him or square to bunt. In spite of that, Anderson seemingly lost his control here, as he walked Walker to load the bases for Villar. After working yet another three-ball count, Villar socked a ball to deep right field that just failed to get out of the ballpark, and the inning was over. The Mets still only had a one-run lead, though that would not be the case for too much longer.

Walker tossed a perfect third inning and recorded another two strikeouts in the process. Following a Lindor groundout to begin the bottom of the frame, McCann hit a sharp line drive to center field that Guillermo Heredia was unable to pull in. McCann managed to make it all the way to third on the play, though the ruling was a double and an error. Still, it marked his second extra base hit of the night, and it led to another run on the board for the Mets on the very next play when Dominic Smith singled on a ground ball to center to score the run and make it 2-0.

The fourth inning was relatively quiet for both teams. Walker struck out Freeman once again to lead off the inning and then issued a walk to Albies, but was able to generate a double play ball from Austin Riley to get out of it. After the Mets went down in order in the bottom of the inning, Walker went back out for the fifth and once again shut the Braves down, getting two more strikeouts for eight on the night. At this point, Walker only had 80 pitches, so Luis Rojas could conceivably have put him back out there for at least one more inning. But instead, he decided to be conservative with his starting pitcher, which made sense given that he had not pitched in a while. His final line was right in-line with what we’ve come to expect from Walker this season: 5 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 0 R, 8 K.

Before Walker was officially removed, however, the Mets were able to add some more runs to the board. Villar, who had just missed a grand slam in the second, led off the inning, and he got his revenge by hitting a solo homer to straightaway center field that landed in the Home Run Apple. That made it 3-0 Mets, and it was immediately followed by two singles from Lindor and McCann—the former a bunt single, and the latter being his third hit of the night. With that, Anderson’s night was done, as Braves manager Brian Snitker brought in the lefty Sean Newcomb to pitch to Smith. He was able to retire Smith on a strikeout, but the Mets nevertheless managed to get another run in on the next at-bat when Nido hit a ground ball to third base that the Braves were not able to convert into a double play. Lindor scored from third, and the Mets had built up a 4-0 lead.

Miguel Castro came on in the sixth, and the Braves took advantage of Walker leaving to score their first run of the game. Heredia hit a line drive double to left field to get things started, and he advanced to third on a groundout from pinch hitter Johan Camargo. Following an Acuna strikeout, Castro walked Freeman, with the last pitch in the at-bat getting away from Nido. Heredia came home, and the lead was cut to 4-1. Of course, Mets fans did not need to worry, as the Amazins were about to make the lead much bigger in the bottom of the inning.

After a groundout by Peraza to get things started against new pitcher Edgar Santana, something absolutely miraculous happened: Cameron Maybin got a hit. Granted, “hit” is a generous word for what he did (he nubbed a weak dribbler towards third base that just barely managed to stay fair), but that’s how it appears in the scorecard. And it paid immediate dividends for the Mets, too, as Brandon Drury then pinch-hit for Castro and hit the second pitch thrown to him to deep left field for his second homer of the season. The score was then 6-1, but the Mets were far from done. Villar walked in the next at-bat, and then Lindor hit a ground ball to first base that bounced off Freddie Freeman. He recovered the ball along the first base line and tried to tag Lindor, but the wily Mets shortstop was able to evade the tag and reach first safely. After that unusual play, McCann secured his fourth hit of the night with a single to left field, scoring yet another run to make it 7-2.

Jay Flaa entered the game at this point to replace the struggling Santana. He struck out Smith swinging, getting the Braves to within one out of ending the inning, The Mets still had some more hits in them, however. Nido got in on the fun by roping a single to left to score Lindor from third and make it 8-2. And then newest Met Billy McKinley—hitless up to that point in the game—came up and hit the most impressive bomb of the day for the Mets, blasting the ball into the second deck in right field. Three more runs scored to bring the Mets up to double digits on the night—with seven of those runs scoring in this sixth inning.

Sean Reid-Foley came into the game in a double switch the seventh, with Wilfredo Tovar replacing Peraza at second. He had some problems throwing strikes—the last thing in the world you want to see from your pitchers when you have a huge lead—as Austin Riley worked a walk to lead things off. Dansby Swanson followed with a line drive single to left field, and it suddenly seemed like the Braves were at least going to make an effort to get back into the game. But Reid-Foley was able to get a ground ball from the next batter, and the Mets were able to turn the double play (though the runner at first was originally called safe and required a challenge to be overturned). William Contreras then grounded out to end the inning, though it almost became interesting with Tovar slipping as he went to make the throw.

While the Mets had more than enough runs at this point, they still saw fit to provide us with one more stellar moment in the game. Jay Flaa was still pitching for the Braves in the bottom of the seventh, and he walked Maybin to lead things off. After getting outs from Tovar and Villar, Lindor—who, despite the bunt single earlier, has still been struggling mightily at the plate—came up and socked a deep fly ball to center field for the Mets’ fifth homer of the game. It was clearly a good moment for Lindor, who hugged several of his teammates as he made his way back to the dugout, and while it may not have meant too much in terms of the final outcome, it was certainly important to get the Citi Field crowd cheering for him again.

Reid-Foley came back on for the eighth and continued to have some problems throwing strikes, as he issued two more walks while also racking up two more strikeouts. The Braves would score their second and final run of the game on a two-out RBI single from Albies, but Reid-Foley was thankfully able to limit the damage there and get Riley to pop-up to third to end the inning. The Mets went down quietly in the bottom of the frame, and Jacob Barnes was given ninth inning duties with a twelve-run lead. The last man in the bullpen did his job by throwing a perfect inning with a couple of strikeouts, and the Mets officially had their largest victory of the season.

Given the rain on Friday and the anticipated forecast for tonight’s game, it may well wind up being the only game that is played during this series. Nevertheless, it was an important one—both for the standings (with the Mets now opening up a three and a half game lead in the East) and for the team’s confidence in an offense that continues to look suspect, but which continues to somehow find ways to win. The Amazins will now either look to finish up the series against the Braves or—in the event of another rain-out—celebrate their one-game sweep.

Box scores

ESPN
MLB

Win Probability Added

Fangraphs.com

What’s WPA?

Big Mets winner: Taijuan Walker, +25.6% WPA
Big Mets loser: Billy McKinney, -2.7% WPA
Mets pitchers: 24.7% WPA
Mets hitters: 25.3% WPA
Teh aw3s0mest play: James McCann solo homer in the first, +11.5% WPA
Teh sux0rest play: Austin Riley leadoff single in the second, -4.1% WPA

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