FLUSHING, NY – It’s a good thing the Mets didn’t deal Marlon Byrd to a contender. His three-run homer in the sixth inning Tuesday gave Zack Wheeler the cushion he needed to beat the Atlanta Braves, 5-3, before 25,863 at CitiField.
It was Byrd’s 21st home run, a personal peak, and 18th extra-base hit, most in the National League since the All-Star break.
The blow also gave the Mets the unique distinction of compiling a winning record against the Braves, who have the most wins and best winning percentage in the majors. Though 28-12 against the rest of the National League East, the Braves are just 7-8 against the pesky Mets.
That description fits Mets leadoff man Eric Young, Jr. to a tee. The fleet leftfielder scored in the first after coaxing a rare throwing error from Atlanta shortstop Andrelton Simmons. He later placed a bunt single between pitcher Brandon Beachy and charging third baseman Chris Johnson, followed with a stolen base on the front end of a double-steal, and scored when catcher Brian McCann threw the ball into center field.
Young’s steal in the decisive sixth, his second swipe of the game, was his 28th, tops in his short career.
Wheeler threw 114 pitches before leaving in the seventh with the bases loaded and two outs. He walked his final two hitters.
All three runners scored when Simmons turned a Carlos Torres 3-1 pitch into a bases-clearing double and advanced to third on an error by third baseman Wilmer Flores. He was left stranded when lefty reliever Scott Rice coaxed a liner to left from Freddie Freeman.
The Mets missed a chance to pad their lead in the seventh when Byrd popped to center with two outs and the bases loaded. But Ike Davis compensated with a leadoff home run against Luis Ayala in the eighth. Davis earlier had an RBI single in the first.
Rookie catcher Travis d’Arnaud collected his first big-league hit, a double, in the New York eighth. He was left stranded when Luis Quintanilla grounded Ayala, who threw him out to end the inning.
LaTroy Hawkins pitched a perfect ninth for the save.
Half of Wheeler’s six wins are against Atlanta. He caught a break when the hot-hitting Justin Upton was scratched from the Atlanta lineup with a minor injury just before game time. He is hitting .311 with 29 RBI over his last 45 games.
The Braves had won 20 of their last 25 before running into Wheeler. Atlanta had a 16-game lead over second-place Washington in the NL East before the Mets game began.
Prior to the game, the Mets announced that third baseman David Wright, sidelined since August 3 with hamstring problems, would return in September after rosters expand.
The news was not so good for Mets pitchers Jenry Mejia and and Jeremy Hefner, both of whom face surgery. The latter may need the Tommy John elbow ligament transplant procedure, certain to idle him all of 2014.