Justin Turner’s seventh-inning rocket was a line drive to centerfield, destined to at least hit the very top of the wall and probably eke over it, whizzing through the suddenly cool Queens air and threatening to deflate the jazzed-up, almost-sold-out Citi Field crowd.
Then Brandon Nimmo got there. He sprinted from straightaway centerfield to his left and backward, with no time to sneak a peek at the wall, relying instead on his institutional knowledge and instinct. He jumped and threw up his glove. For a moment, the ball was out of sight. But his reaction told the story. Nimmo fist-pumped, then fist-pumped again, roaring with about as much emotion as he has ever shown on a field before revealing the proof: the ball in his glove.
Somehow, he had made the catch, preserving the lead in the Mets’ 2-1 win over the Dodgers on Wednesday night.
Nimmo called it the best catch he’s ever made.
“The timing was right, and everything worked out just perfectly,” he said. “I jumped up, felt the ball hit my glove and I knew it didn’t bounce out once it got in there. Then all the emotion spilled out.”
Jacob deGrom, who from the infield raised both arms in celebration and relief, added: “I made a mistake there, and he helped me out.”
And manager Buck Showalter: “The toughest part of it was it didn’t hang up there. He had to totally commit to it . . . When you look at minor-league players, one of the questions I ask is, can they turn hits into outs? I never ask, can they turn home runs into outs?”
That evened the series at one win apiece and the season series at three wins apiece. The final matchup between the Mets (83-48) and Dodgers (90-39) — before October, anyway — will be at 4 p.m. Thursday, Clayton Kershaw versus Chris Bassitt.
This one had a little bit of everything, including a preview of their playoff formula. The Mets had just enough offense, with Starling Marte hitting a two-run home run off Tyler Anderson (seven innings, two runs); deGrom allowed one run in a season-high seven innings, aided by Nimmo’s dramatics; and their most reliable relievers, Adam Ottavino and Edwin Diaz, didn’t allow a baserunner across two innings.
Adding to the playoff-lite atmosphere: Timothy Smith — better known as Timmy Trumpet, the guy who does the trumpets in “Narco,” Diaz’s entrance song — was in attendance to play live his part of the tune as Diaz jogged to the mound for the top of the ninth. When the trumpet section came around the second time, he rode his instrument like a horse.
“That,” Showalter said of the night, “was fun.”
After swinging and missing at a pair of down-and-in changeups in his first at-bat, Marte got all the changeup Anderson left over the heart of the plate in the third inning. He hammered it to center for a two-run shot, scoring Nimmo, who had singled.
Facing the best team — and the most prolific offense — in baseball, deGrom was as good as he has been in his month back from the injured list. He didn’t allow a hit until the fifth inning, when Turner singled past a diving Francisco Lindor. He struck out nine batters and walked just one. The Dodgers broke through in the sixth, when Mookie Betts crushed a home run to leftfield on a slider that deGrom left over the plate.
DeGrom nearly allowed his penultimate batter to tie it, until Nimmo bailed him out.
“He always tells me before every start, ‘I need you to play good defense out there,’” Nimmo said. “It’s kind of facetious. We both know he’s going to strike a ton of people out.”
DeGrom added: “It’s funny because before the game I told him, ‘Hey Nims, a lot of defense.’ Then I was joking with him when he came off, ‘Hey, you actually listened.’ ”
Nimmo, smiley as always, was reserved in his telling of that exchange.
“I have to start calming down because I have to sleep at some point tonight and get ready for a 4 o’clock game tomorrow,” he said. “I’m still really ecstatic about it . . . But I need to start toning down a little bit, otherwise I won’t fall asleep till 6 a.m. Can’t be having that.”