NEW YORK (AP) — Rafael Ortega had two hits during a six-run fifth inning Sunday night, leading New York to a 7-6 win over the major league-best Atlanta Braves and preventing the Mets from falling into last place in the NL East.
The Mets, who were outscored 34-3 in the first three games of the series and overcame a 3-0 deficit Sunday, remained a half-game ahead of the Washington Nationals.
New York hasn’t been in the cellar this late in a full season since 2005. The Mets are 22 1/2 games behind the Braves a year after finishing with 101 wins and in a tie atop the division with Atlanta, which won the head-to-head tiebreaker.
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“To beat one of the best teams in baseball — we know they’re operating on all cylinders and giving you their best shot,” Mets manager Buck Showalter said. “So anytime you can beat them, it’s hard.”
Ortega singled leading off the fifth and hit a two-run single to complete a rally that included four singles and three walks — two with the bases loaded — and a run-scoring catcher’s interference call on the Braves’ Sean Murphy.
“You get people on base, you always want to do more,” Showalter said. “Everybody’s chasing swinging the bat and doing something. Sometimes, what you should be chasing — I’m not saying it’s a walk, it’s selectivity.”
Ortega finished with three hits, one shy of his career high. Jeff McNeil had three singles, including a run-scoring hit in the third.
Kodai Senga (9-6) allowed three runs — all in the first via Marcell Ozuna’s bases-clearing double — and whiffed seven in six innings.
The 30-year-old rookie right-hander is tied with Max Scherzer — who was traded to the Texas Rangers on July 29 — for the team lead in wins and is tops on the Mets in innings pitched and strikeouts.
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“I feel good, I feel strong on the mound,” Senga said through an interpreter. “I think I can get through the season on a high note. On-field care, off-field care, I think I’m doing what I can to maintain my high performance on the field.”
Murphy led off the seventh with a homer and Matt Olson pulled the Braves within a run with his major league-leading 43rd homer, a two-run shot, in the eighth. Atlanta leads the majors with 227 homers.
“Even when we got down, I felt good,” manager Brian Snitker said of the Braves, who have 31 comeback wins this season. “But we can’t walk that many guys like that. The guys kept fighting and we gave ourselves a chance to win.”
Drew Smith retired Murphy, the potential go-ahead run, for the final out of the eighth and Adam Ottavino notched his seventh save with a perfect ninth.
Yonny Chirinos (5-5) gave up six runs in 4 2/3 innings.
THE DEFENSE DIDN’T REST
The Mets made several impressive plays in the field. Shortstop Francisco Lindor ranged well into the hole to snare a grounder by Ozuna before throwing him out with a jump throw in the fourth. Brandon Nimmo, playing left field for the second time in the last two seasons, reached to rob Austin Riley of extra bases in the sixth. Pete Alonso then ended the inning with a diving stop of a grounder by Eddie Rosario.
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The loss Sunday was the third in the Braves’ last 17 games against the Mets — a span in which Atlanta has outscored New York 124-61. The Braves lead the NL East by 11 games over Philadelphia.
ONLY ONE BOROUGH IN LAST
The Mets’ win ensured both New York teams would not be in last place this late in a full season for the first time. The Yankees are 60-58, two games behind the fourth-place Red Sox in the AL East.
Braves: 2B Ozzie Albies left in the eighth inning due to cramping. ... Murphy was hit by Vientos’ back swing in the seventh inning. He visited with a trainer for a few minutes but stayed in the game despite suffering a cut on his head, likely from the Pitchcom device. ... RHP Kyle Wright (shoulder inflammation), who won a major league-leading 21 games last season but has been limited to five starts this year, has begun ramping up his activity at the club’s spring training complex in Florida.
Mets: Showalter said RF Starling Marte (right groin strain) is “progressing, little by little.” Marte is eligible to come off the injured list Wednesday but is unlikely to return then and may need a rehab stint.
Braves: LHP Max Fried (3-1, 2.50 ERA) takes the mound as Atlanta returns home Monday from a season-high 11-game trip to begin a three-game set against the Yankees. Fried will be making his third start following a nearly three-month stay on the injured list with a forearm strain.
Mets: A 10-game homestand continues Monday when RHP Carlos Carrasco (3-6, 6.42) opens a three-game series against Pittsburgh.
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