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48° Good Afternoon

Yoenis Cespedes, Mets have grand finale in Atlanta

Mets' Yoenis Cespedes is greeted by teammate Jose

Mets' Yoenis Cespedes is greeted by teammate Jose Reyes after hitting a grand slam in the third inning of a baseball game in Atlanta Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016. Credit: AP / Tami Chappell

ATLANTA — The swing, by now familiar for its violence, sent a streak of fluorescent orange through the thick air at Turner Field. Then came the boom, and the baseball soaring to leftfield as if shot out of a cannon.

Yoenis Cespedes admired it for a moment, not unusual for him, and then started his jog around the bases. In the stands, a vendor reached out and caught the mighty drive with his bare hand. In the dugout, an entire team exhaled.

Such is the power of Cespedes, whose grand slam set in motion a 10-3 rout of the Braves on Sunday afternoon, one that the Mets used to take a half-game lead over the Cardinals for the second wild card.

“If he’s getting hot, he’s getting hot at the right time,” said manager Terry Collins, whose team is 1 1⁄2 games behind the Giants for the first wild card. “This is a big stretch for us.”

Despite the score and the fact that he is dealing with a tender right quadriceps, Cespedes never came out of the game. Collins said he declined his offer to sit after the eighth inning. That’s also when Collins pulled shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who remained in the blowout despite a balky left knee.

Cespedes wasn’t eager to give his side of the story. He declined to comment, with a Mets spokesman saying only, “He’s going to let his bat do his talking today.”

In that regard, he had plenty to say.

Cespedes’ 30th home run of a splendid season came in the third inning and gave the Mets a 5-0 lead on the way to their sixth consecutive series victory.

Righthander Seth Lugo, the 34th-round draft pick, continued his unlikely emergence into a rotation savior. “I’m going to wait until the end of the season to kind of put it all into perspective like that,” said Lugo, who improved to 4-2 with a 2.40 ERA after joining the rotation because of injuries.

Lugo allowed two runs and six hits in seven innings, though his entire outing hinged on avoiding major damage when he encountered a bases-loaded, none-out jam in the fourth.

“This guy has a feel for pitching,” Collins said. “He knows what he’s got to do, he knows what he needs to do, he knows how to get a ground ball to help him get out of trouble.”

Through the years, Turner Field has been a house of torment for the Mets, who have gone 67-106 since the building opened in 1997. But just as the Braves prepare to move into their gleaming new suburban ballpark, the Mets have figured out how to win here. They have won 11 of their last 14 games at Turner Field, including Sunday’s final visit.

Of course, the Mets have been tough to beat regardless of the venue, at least lately. They have won 16 of their last 21 games, and in little more than three weeks, they have gone from two games below .500 to nine games over.

James Loney knocked in two runs, one with a solo shot, his first homer since July 29. Cabrera finished with three hits, including a triple, and three runs. Cespedes had five RBIs, further reinforcing his importance to the Mets.

Cespedes has an opt-out in his contract, one that can make him a free agent at season’s end. The sides have not discussed an extension, with both agreeing to curtail talks until the offseason. But all he has done is enhance his standing.

Since returning from the disabled list Aug. 19, Cespedes is hitting .308 with eight homers and 19 RBIs. In that 20-game span, the Mets are 15-5.

“He wants to win, I will tell you that,” Collins said “This guy wants to win.”


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