NEW YORK -- Off the bat, the Mets were convinced it was a home run -- convinced that finally, for one night, they had managed to vanquish a Braves team bent on disrupting their Wild Card chase.
Ender Inciarte had other ideas. Racing over from his perch in center field, Inciarte leaped, thrust his glove over the fence and brought Yoenis Cespedes' drive back into play. Rather than a walk-off homer, it became a game-ending out, allowing the Braves to cap a three-game sweep of the Mets with a 4-3 victory on Wednesday night at Citi Field.
"This is probably the best catch I've ever made," Inciarte said. "I thought the ball was gone off the bat, but it was the last play of the game, so I just went for it. I was really pumped up. I caught the ball, and I knew I had it. But the fans were waiting until I took it out of the glove."
When Inciarte did, it was confirmed: Atlanta had won its sixth straight game in Flushing and its fifth in a row overall. And as uplifting as that was for the Braves, it was equally painful for the Mets, who relinquished an opportunity to move ahead of the Cardinals and Giants in the National League Wild Card race. The Mets remained tied with St. Louis and San Francisco, who both lost on Wednesday.
According to Statcast™, Cespedes' drive had an exit velocity of 101.7 mph and a launch angle of 28 degrees. Batted balls with those traits go for a hit 84 percent of the time and a home run 72 percent of the time.
Inciarte had a first step of -0.73 seconds on the play, which means he was actually moving before the crack of the bat. He reached a top speed of 19.2 mph and covered 104 feet.
Jumping out to a 3-0 lead on Asdrubal Cabrera's two-run homer in the first inning and Rene Rivera's solo shot in the fifth, the Mets seemed as if they might cruise to victory from there. But an Anthony Recker two-run shot in the seventh inning brought the Braves back within a run of the lead, before a Dansby Swanson single chased starter Bartolo Colon from the game.
Mets manager Terry Collins made a series of unorthodox bullpen decisions at that point, bringing setup man Addison Reed into the game in the seventh, lefty specialist Josh Smoker in the eighth and, with the game on the line, closer Jeurys Familia in the ninth. The moves backfired when Matt Kemp tied things with a sacrifice fly off Familia. An inning later, with Familia still in the game, Inciarte hit a go-ahead RBI groundout.
But it was not until the game's final moments that Inciarte made his most significant contribution, robbing Cespedes of a would-be walk-off homer.
"We all thought it was out," Rivera said. "It's a shame that he made that great play. Good for them, bad for us."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Sky high: What could have been the winning rally for the Mets began when Brandon Nimmo hit a leadoff single against Braves closer Jim Johnson in the ninth. With one out, Travis d'Arnaud walked, before a Cabrera flyout brought Cespedes to the plate with two men on base and two outs. He ripped a 95-mph Johnson fastball to right-center, eliciting a roar from the Citi Field crowd -- then a groan as Inciarte skied over the fence to catch it.
"Probably the best catch I've ever seen," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "I still can't wrap my mind around it."
Among outfield catches this season in which the ball had a hang time of less than 5.5 seconds and a launch angle of under 28 degrees, Inciarte's distance covered of 104 feet ranks seventh.
No. 1 on that list is Billy Hamilton, who traveled 123 feet to rob Carlos Beltran under similar circumstances on Aug. 23. Of course, Hamilton didn't have a wall to contend with.
Coming back: When the Mets led, 3-0, in the fifth inning, Braves third baseman Adonis Garcia told Inciarte, "They'd better score some more runs if they want to win, because we're not staying at zero." Sure enough, the Braves rallied and eventually manufactured a winning run in the ninth on two singles, a sacrifice bunt and a perfectly placed Inciarte slow roller.
"They performed just like they have been," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "It's a cliché, but they just don't quit."
Freddie ties Chipper: Freeman's fourth-inning single off Colon gave the Braves' first baseman a 41-game on-base streak, equalling the longest by his mentor, Chipper Jones. Only two players in Atlanta Braves history and three in franchise history have had longer streaks: Gary Sheffield, 52 games in 2002; Dale Murphy, 48 games in 1987; and Hank Aaron, 43 games for the 1962 Milwaukee Braves.
"[Jones] helped me a lot," Freeman said. "Just to be mentioned with him, a future Hall of Famer, is amazing." More >
Missed opportunity: After the Mets coughed up the lead in the top of the eighth, they had an opportunity to take it right back in the bottom of the inning. But Cespedes did not run hard out of the box on his one-out double, which saw Kemp leap at the wall in an unsuccessful catch attempt. The Braves loaded the bases on intentional walks, before pinch-hitter Kevin Plawecki struck out on five pitches -- four of them outside the strike zone -- to end the threat.
Return of Recker: Recker caught Colon in 17 games with the Mets from 2014-15. He got in the batter's box against Colon for the first time in a game on Wednesday night and sparked Atlanta with a two-run home run. Recker stopped between second base and third on his home run trot, because he looked up and saw Markakis stop at third, thinking it was a ground-rule double.
"He scared me," Recker said.
"Guys were flying over the [dugout] railing. It just erupted. I don't think you could have had a bigger eruption if we won the World Series." -- Snitker, on Inciarte's catch
"He said something like, 'See what you did? Now I have to leave the game.'" -- Swanson, explaining what Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon told him after Swanson's single led to Colon's departure in the seventh inning
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Cabrera's home run gave him 21 on the season, including 20 as a shortstop -- good for sole possession of the franchise record he briefly shared with Jose Reyes. Alex Rodriguez holds the MLB record with 57 homers as a shortstop in 2002, one of six seasons in which he hit more than 40 while manning the position.
WHAT'S NEXT Braves: The Braves move on to Miami, where they'll play their final four road games of the season. Right-hander Josh Collmenter (2-0, 4.61 ERA), who beat the Nationals in his Braves debut, starts Thursday night's 7:10 ET series opener at Marlins Park. Right-hander Jose Urena (4-7, 5.59 ERA) starts for the Marlins.
Mets: The Mets won't be sorry to say farewell to the Braves, who made life difficult for them all summer. They've had more success against the Phillies, who will travel to Citi Field for a four-game series starting Thursday. Mets right-hander Seth Lugo (4-2, 2.35 ERA) will look to continue his rookie success opposite lefty Adam Morgan (2-10, 5.57 ERA) in the 7:10 p.m. ET opener.