Atlanta Braves best struggling Jacob deGrom to tie New York Mets for NL East lead

ATLANTA — It's hard to leave anything out over the plate and get away with it against the Braves.

Jacob deGrom learned that lesson the hard way on Friday night.

The Mets ace flashed his dominant form but when he made a mistake, the Braves, who lead the National League in home runs, were there to capitalize. Austin Riley, Matt Olson and Dansby Swanson each cranked solo home runs off deGrom as the Mets dropped the first game of their crucial series to the Braves, 5-2, in front of 42,402 fans at Truist Park.

The loss dropped the Mets back into a tie atop the National League East with the Braves. The Mets hold a 9-8 lead in the season series and need just one win in the teams' next two games to grab what could be an important tiebreaker.

"That’s a good lineup over there. You make mistakes over the middle, every once in a while you get away with it, but they did a good job of capitalizing on it," deGrom said. "I’m just going to make the adjustment and throw the ball where I need to throw it."

The Mets had grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning on an RBI single by Luis Guillorme, but the Braves bounced back quickly. Riley launched a hanging slider over the wall in center field and Olson made it back-to-back home runs by ripping a fastball over the middle into the right-center field seats.

Atlanta Braves third baseman Austin Riley hits a home run against the New York Mets in the second inning of Friday's game.
Atlanta Braves third baseman Austin Riley hits a home run against the New York Mets in the second inning of Friday's game.

WHO WINS NL EAST? Braves host Mets in biggest series of season

HERE WE GO AGAIN: Phillies' collapse puts playoff hopes in danger

DON'T MISS OUT: Sign up for sports news and features sent to your Inbox

In both cases, deGrom, who was dealing with a blood blister for the second straight start, fell behind in the count. In each case, the Braves made him pay.

"(I) don’t really think it affected me, I just threw some pitches down the middle," deGrom said. "I didn’t do a good job of locating when I needed to. I left some balls over the middle of the plate and they did damage on them."

He received a little bit of help from Francisco Lindor in the bottom of the third.

After Orlando Arcia knocked a leadoff single and moved over to second, Michael Harris II lined a sharp ground ball over the mound with two outs. Lindor gloved it behind second base and caught Arcia trying to round third for an inning-ending rundown.

The Mets ace settled in, picking up five straight strikeouts and seven consecutive outs between the fourth and sixth innings before Swanson ripped his 23rd home run of the season to left.

Reason for concern with Jacob deGrom?

After making a forceful return from a four-month IL stint with a stress reaction in his right shoulder, Jacob deGrom has struggled in the month of September.

He was coming off his worst start since 2019 last time out when he gave up five earned runs on six hits and four walks across four innings in a loss to the Pirates.

The swings and misses have continued, but the opposition has been able to find some cracks across deGrom's four starts. He has now given up three earned runs or more in each of his last four starts as his ERA has leapt from 1.66 to 3.08

"Yeah, I feel good. That’s the most frustrating part about it," deGrom said. "Everything feels good, it’s just when I make a mistake over the middle of the plate, it’s getting hit hard. I’ve got to eliminate those."

New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom wipes his face after allowing a solo home run to Atlanta Braves' Matt Olson during the second inning of a baseball game Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, in Atlanta.
New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom wipes his face after allowing a solo home run to Atlanta Braves' Matt Olson during the second inning of a baseball game Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, in Atlanta.

In those four starts, deGrom has still amassed 39 strikeouts or 9.75 per start. DeGrom said the blister popped during his start against the Pirates, but the area became aggravated later on Friday and the Mets did not want to risk any further damage, taking him out after 87 pitches.

"We decided that was enough," deGrom said. "We don’t want it to become a bigger issue than it is."

Tylor Megill mashed

With the Mets trailing by two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, Buck Showalter called upon Tylor Megill to try and keep their deficit there.

Megill, who was making his fifth relief appearance since returning from a right shoulder strain, dug himself into a hole that he couldn't emerge from.

He gave up a single to Olson followed by a double from Travis d'Arnaud to lead off the inning. After the Braves' fourth run crossed on a sacrifice fly, Orlando Arcia moved them ahead 5-1 with a double into the left-center field gap.

"Just up and guys were catching up with him and staying on top of the ball," manager Buck Showalter said. "He wasn’t able to land anything soft enough except on the changeup to their catcher was center cut."

Megill gave up two earned runs on three hits in ⅔ inning before Trevor May ended the frame with a strikeout of Ronald Acuna Jr.

Megill, who made nine starts earlier in the season, was supposed to be auditioning for a postseason bullpen role but it has not gone as planned. In his five relief appearances this month, Megill has allowed four earned runs on five hits and two walks with three strikeouts.

"It’s a result-oriented world we live in," Showalter said. "Tylor wasn’t the reason we lost the game, but we’re continuing to try to get through the games to be prepared for not only tonight but tomorrow."

Francisco Alvarez has mixed debut

In the first major league game of his career, Francisco Alvarez came up in the biggest spot of the game.

With the bases loaded, one out in the top of the ninth and the Truist Park crowd on its feet, Alvarez waved through a cutter from Kenley Jansen as his bat went flying. He ended up finishing the night 0-for-4 despite some hard contact.

"Since the day I signed, I felt like I belonged here so that's why I take it with a sense of calmness because I know that I belong here. Obviously, there's a lot of work to be done, but I feel like I belong here, so that's how you approach it."

New York Mets designated hitter Francisco Alvarez grounds into a double play in his first career at-bat against the Atlanta Braves in the second inning at Truist Park.
New York Mets designated hitter Francisco Alvarez grounds into a double play in his first career at-bat against the Atlanta Braves in the second inning at Truist Park.

The Mets' top prospect, who was called up with Darin Ruf placed on the 10-day injured list with a neck strain, also came up with a big opportunity from the No. 7 spot in the lineup with two runners on and no outs in the top of the second.

But on the first pitch of his major league career, Alvarez roped a sharp ground ball right at Riley at third base to jump-start a Braves double play.

"I felt good," Alvarez said. "I was excited because I was able to make my debut but also sad and disappointed that we weren't able to win that game."

On his second swing in the top of the fifth inning, Alvarez fanned at a fastball from Max Fried as his bat sailed into the netting behind home plate for the first time. On the seventh pitch of his at-bat, Alvarez hit a ground ball off the end of his bat to first base.

With Eduardo Escobar on second base in the top of the seventh, Alvarez knocked a deep fly ball to center field, but it was tracked down by Harris.

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Braves beat Mets, best struggling Jacob deGrom to tie for NL East lead