ATLANTA — Truist Park became Circus Maximus on Monday, but only one ace named Max really delivered.
That was Max Scherzer, who dominated the opposition while his Braves counterpart, Max Fried, was lucky to survive the early innings.
With Scherzer in charge the Mets’ wasted opportunities weren’t so pronounced. The right-hander’s seven strong innings led to a 4-1 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 42,925, pushing the Mets’ NL East lead over the Braves back to 2 ½ games.
The Mets (54-33) still have 14 games remaining against the Braves before the regular season concludes. Scherzer offered a reminder on this night of why team owner Steve Cohen was willing to give him a three-year contract worth $130 million last offseason.
“Superb effort from Max tonight,” Cohen tweeted. “Great start to the series against Atlanta.”
Scherzer didn’t dent until the seventh, when Austin Riley crushed a two-out homer that pulled the Braves within 2-1. The ensuing batter, Marcell Ozuna, doubled on a hanging slider before Scherzer struck out Eddie Rosario and pumped his fist in celebration. Before Riley’s homer, Scherzer had retired 12 straight batters and 20 of 21 overall in the game.
“You want to play good baseball, especially this time of year,” Scherzer said. “They are a great team over there … when you can collect wins against them, that is kind of a measuring stick win and it’s a good feeling.”
Overall, the right-hander struck out nine batters in his 93-pitch outing and moved ahead of CC Sabathia for 17th place on the all-time strikeout list. Scherzer in his two starts since returning from the IL has allowed one earned run over 13 innings with five hits allowed, 20 strikeouts and no walks.
“I got away with a couple of mistakes that could have been homers — fortunately they weren’t,” Scherzer said. “But that is a good lineup and when you can go through there and pitch well against them that is a good feeling.”
Scherzer opened the game by retiring the first eight batters he faced before Robinson Cano, in his first plate appearance with his new team, singled off Luis Guillorme’s glove in the third. Before the Braves could get too excited, Scherzer struck out Ronald Acuna Jr. to end the inning.
After pitching six scoreless innings last week in Cincinnati in his return from a strained oblique, Scherzer said he still wasn’t grunting on the mound — indicating he was still holding something back. He was asked if he reached the grunt level against the Braves.
“We’re getting there,” Scherzer said. “I had absolutely nothing with the oblique today. No pain, nothing. I felt really good on that front, so I feel the injury is really behind me now.”
Adam Ottavino and Edwin Diaz combined to pitch the final two innings scoreless. It was the first time this season manager Buck Showalter opted to use Diaz on three straight days.
“You look at [Diaz’s] pitch counts and the hitters he faced the last two days, this was the time to do it,” Showalter said.
Guillorme got a run back for the Mets in the eighth, hammering a high fastball from Darren O’Day into the right-field seats for his second homer of the season. The homer was only the fourth of Guillorme’s career and his second in three lifetime at-bats against O’Day. The Mets added to their lead in the ninth on Pete Alonso’s RBI fielder’s choice.
Fried somehow managed to survive five innings with only two runs allowed. The left-hander was in trouble for most of his outing, but the Mets barely capitalized.
Alonso stroked an RBI double in the third that gave the Mets their first run. Alonso, with his two RBIs, has 72 this season, moving him within two of David Wright’s pre-All Star break team record. Wright drove in 74 runs before the break in 2006. The Mets took a 2-0 lead in the inning on Guillorme’s fielder’s choice with the bases loaded.
Travis Jankowski walked leading off the fourth and Francisco Lindor delivered a two-out single, but Alonso struck out to end the threat. In the fifth, Mark Canha and Guillorme each walked, before JD Davis hit into an inning-ending double play. The Mets also had two runners on in the second — on a Guillorme double and Jankowski hit-by-pitch- but failed to score. Fried’s five walks were a season high.