ATLANTA — Round one of this weekend’s heavyweight bout, a 5-2 Mets loss to Atlanta, started as a showdown of ace versus ace but evolved into a showcase of the teams’ wildly different approaches to scoring — a potentially relevant development with the pitching-dominant environment of the postseason looming.
The Mets, with a pass-the-baton, string-hits-together kind of lineup that features one true slugger, opened the scoring in the second inning when they put together three singles, two of which might have been outs if not for leftfielder Eddie Rosario’s defensive flubs. They didn’t mount any other true scoring threats until the ninth, when they loaded the bases with one out but stopped there.
Atlanta, by virtue of its prolific power, is almost always a scoring threat. It hit three solo home runs — including back-to-back shots by Austin Riley and Matt Olson in the bottom of the second — in six innings against Jacob deGrom and used more smoked extra-base hits later to open a more comfortable lead.
“You’re seeing two teams that have some different skill sets, but you still get to the same endgame,” manager Buck Showalter said. “They just pitched a little better than we did tonight.”
The series opener put the Mets and Atlanta back into a tie atop the NL East with five games to go, including the next two against each other.
Home runs were the difference this time. Atlanta’s 237 on the season are second in the majors (behind the Yankees’ 244). The Mets rank 16th with 162.
Lefthander Max Fried (14-7, 2.48 ERA) gave up one run and four hits, all singles, in five innings before exiting because he felt ill. Collin McHugh, Raisel Iglesias and Kenley Jansen each tossed a scoreless inning; A.J. Minter allowed Tomas Nido’s solo shot. DeGrom (5-4, 3.08) struck out 11 and walked none.
When Rosario went down swinging in the fifth, deGrom collected the 100th strikeout of his much-abbreviated season. He got there in 63 innings. The last of the five hits against him was a home run by Dansby Swanson in the sixth.
Atlanta’s blasts were absolutely blasted, too. Riley’s tying homer went 422 feet to center. Olson’s go-ahead homer went 430 to right-center. Swanson’s tack-on homer went 441 to left-center.
“That’s what they’re good at,” Showalter said.
DeGrom exited after 86 pitches because of a blister on his right middle finger. “We didn’t want to make it worse where a start is in question,” he said.
Showalter added: “It got to a point where it probably wasn’t smart to continue.”
Showalter said he has dealt with the blister problem for “a while.” DeGrom downplayed the possibility that it has affected his recent pitching, which includes a 6.00 ERA in his past four starts. He has yielded six home runs in that stretch after allowing three total in his first seven games.
“You gotta eliminate mistakes, which I did not do tonight. That’s what happens. I left balls over the middle of the plate and they did damage,” deGrom said. “The ones to Riley and Olson were right down the middle. Those were terrible pitches.”
A key late was the Mets’ late-season experimentation, their attempt to figure out the unsettled sections of the postseason roster.
Tylor Megill, bullpen candidate, allowed two runs in two-thirds of an inning; four of his five batters had a hard-hit ball. Top prospect Francisco Alvarez, a DH contestant, finished his 0-for-4 major-league debut by striking out on three pitches against Jansen with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth, losing his bat in the process. Tyler Naquin then struck out to end a nine-pitch at-bat.
“I don’t feel like we’re experimenting,” Showalter said. “Without Starling [Marte] here, we have to do some things we might not normally have to.”