On replays, it was clear that Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman made the final out of the 10th inning Wednesday.
The replay showed that Mets lefthander Scott Rice knocked down Freeman's comebacker, scrambled to retrieve the baseball from behind the mound, and delivered a desperate throw just in time to nab Freeman by a fraction of a step.
But Jerry Layne saw it differently. And one batter later, the consequences of the first-base umpire's blown call led the Mets to a bitter 4-1 loss to the Braves.
Given a chance to play hero, Chris Johnson bashed the first pitch he saw off submariner Greg Burke for a demoralizing three-run homer. Before Johnson rounded the bases, Layne ejected second baseman Daniel Murphy for arguing the call. Moments later, a furious Mets manager Terry Collins joined his second baseman.
"I didn't have much to say that was very nice," said Collins, who spiked his cap before trudging off the field.
Next year, Collins likely will be able to request a video replay in similar situations. This year, his only option was to vent.
The loss spoiled another encouraging outing by lefty Jon Niese, who lowered his ERA to 2.84 in three starts since returning from a partially torn rotator cuff that landed him on the disabled list. In seven innings, Niese held the Braves to just one run, which came after a scary incident in the sixth.
Pitching with a 1-0 lead thanks to a solo shot by Josh Satin, Niese plunked the Braves' Jason Heyward on the right side of his jaw in the sixth inning. The outfielder, who lay on the ground for a moment, left the game in a daze. The Braves followed with a pair of hits, the last of which knocked in the tying run.
The game remained tied until the controversial call in the 10th.
Of course, the Mets weren't without their chances. Justin Turner kick-started a ninth inning rally by dumping a one-out double just past diving leftfielder Joey Terdoslavich. Wilmer Flores advanced Turner to third base with a groundout to second before reliever Luis Avilan loaded the bases, first with an intentional walk to John Buck, and then with another free pass to pinch hitter Travis d'Arnaud.
But rookie Juan Lagares bounced into a force out to send the Mets to extra innings.
The Mets came within one strike of escaping the 10th with no damage. Rice jumped ahead of Freeman, forcing him down to his last strike. Freeman hit a comebacker that took a funny bounce. Instead of fielding it cleanly, Rice had the ball glance off his glove, forcing him to scramble.
"It came at me," Rice said. "I should have fielded it."
Rice gave way to Burke, who was summoned to face Johnson. It was the righthander's first appearance since he was recalled from Triple-A Las Vegas on Saturday.
"We were trying to come in there on Chris," Burke said. "We'd been doing it all game."
And all game, it had worked. Johnson began the day hitting .334, second in the National League. But when he stepped to the plate in the 10th, he had already grounded out and struck out three straight times. Burke's two-seam fastball arrived off the plate, inside, where he had aimed. Johnson saw it coming and sent the reliever's first pitch over the fence.
Murphy wasted no time voicing what he later called his "difference of opinion" with Layne. He began jawing at the umpire as soon as the ball left Johnson's bat. Layne tossed Murphy soon after Johnson rounded first base. Collins wasn't far behind.
"Right or wrong, I preferred not to get thrown out right there," said Murphy, who viewed replays that confirmed his opinion after the game. "But I think tensions were running high and might have boiled over."
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