Heyward has never experienced the thrill of hitting a walk-off home run. But if he does, the resulting sensation might not trump what he was feeling when he ended Monday night's 2-1 win over the Mets by diving to rob Justin Tuner of what would have been at least a game-tying single.
"I knew I had to dive off the bat, because I didn't think it was within my reach," Heyward said. "As I got closer, I was thinking, 'Obviously, you're going to try to make the play with two outs and the game on the line. If you don't catch it, so be it. Fortunately, I was able to get a good enough jump."
With runners at first and second and the right-handed Turner at the plate against Kimbrel, Heyward was shaded toward right field. As he started toward left-center to make the catch, no one would guess this marked just the fifth time he had played center field since beginning his big league career in 2010.
Heyward, who has primarily played right field, will handle the center-field duties while B.J. Upton misses at least another week with a strained right adductor muscle. Monday was the first game Heyward played since straining his right hamstring on July 11.
"He's a [heck] of an athlete and he has the Rawlings' Gold Glove for a reason," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He covers right field like a center fielder. He made a [heck] of a play to save the game."
An appreciative Craig Kimbrel stood on the mound with his arms stretched out after Heyward rescued the closer from what would have been his first blown save in more than two months. Reed Johnson, who had remained in left field after delivering the go-ahead single in the top of the ninth, jumped for joy after witnessing the dramatic catch.
"I think that is the highest I've jumped in six or seven years," Johnson said. "I said I was going to cry either way, whether he caught it or not. Happy tears is a good thing."
The Braves, held hitless through the first six innings by Dillon Gee, were staring at a potential shutout loss before they scored their only two runs of the game in the ninth against Bobby Parnell.
Brian McCann and Evan Gattis opened the ninth with consecutive singles off Parnell, and a passed ball by John Buck put pinch-runner Jose Constanza in position to score on Chris Johnson's one-out, game-tying groundout. This set the stage for Reed Johnson to come off the bench to drill his decisive single up the middle.
Johnson's game-winning hit came a little more than 24 hours after he lined out with the bases loaded and had a two-run home run taken away from him in Sunday's loss to the White Sox.
"It feels great, especially coming off the bench," Reed Johnson said. "To be able to help impact a game like that means a lot. It's tough in that situation against a closer, and it's even tougher when you're in a pinch-hit situation. It really feels pretty good."
After being held hitless through the first six innings, the Braves finally recorded two singles before loading the bases against Gee in the seventh inning. But like they had done twice on Sunday, they came away from this bases-loaded threat without scoring a single run.
"I felt like we were in a pretty good position to win [yesterday's] game a couple of different times," Reed Johnson said. "We didn't really have anything go our way. Today we did."
The Braves' 30th comeback win of the season was possible because of Julio Teheran. The only run the prized young right-hander surrendered came after Justin Upton misplayed Marlon Byrd's fly ball in shallow right field into a triple to begin the fourth inning. Ike Davis followed with an RBI single.
Three of the four hits Teheran allowed in his six innings could have been prevented with just a little defensive assistance. Davis' one-out double in the second inning landed on the left-field line just out the reach of Gattis, who is still adjusting to life as an outfielder. Daniel Murphy's two-out single in the third inning came courtesy of Johnson's late throw across the diamond.
But by the time the Braves scored twice in the ninth and then ended the game with Heyward's acrobatic theatrics, Gee was left empty-handed. In his previous start against Atlanta, he carried a shutout bid into the ninth inning before surrendering Freeman's walk-off home run.
"[Gee] pitched a great game, tremendous game," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "Certainly he didn't get much, but you have to credit [the Braves]. There's a reason they have a [seven-game] lead in the division. They have a great pitching staff, they've got a good club. They're tough to score runs on."