ATLANTA – One night after getting struck in the face by a 95 mph fastball, Kevin Pillar popped out of the dugout to deliver the lineup card to home plate.
No way the New York Mets were losing this game.
Even if it took a hit from the most unlikely of players.
Jonathan Villar and Tomás Nido homered for the Mets, powering a 4-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday night, but it was a third-inning single by reliever Tommy Hunter that symbolized how resourceful New York has been in the face of a staggering rash of injuries.
“He was due,” Nido quipped.
Was he ever.
Hunter, a 34-year-old right-hander, was second to the mound on a night when the Mets relied on their bullpen to get by without a true starter. He had batted only four times previously in his 14-year career.
He finally got his first hit, lining one cleanly to left field.
“That was the coolest thing I've ever done in the big leagues,” Hunter said, still riding high during a giddy Zoom session with reporters several hours later. “I got a knock in The Show. ... I feel like I'm a real baseball player now."
With everyone on the top step of the Mets dugout to applaud his accomplishment, Hunter waved in their direction, gave a little shake of the hips and fist-bumped first-base coach Tony Tarasco.
Hunter’s hit proved huge. With two outs, Villar drove a 1-1 pitch into the seats in left-center for a two-run shot.
When he got to home plate, a winded Hunter was there to greet him.
“I don't like running,” Hunter said, having apparently failed to consider the ramifications of getting a hit. “I'll tell you what: it's a long way around those bases.”
With his face swollen and badly bruised, Pillar carried New York's lineup card to home plate before the game, a gesture that brought a huge sigh of relief to both teams.
Pillar shook hands with the four umpires and Braves coach Walt Weiss, who gave him a warm pat on the shoulder.
Austin Riley and Freddie Freeman homered for Atlanta, and Marcell Ozuna tied the game at 3 with a two-out, broken-bat single in the eighth off Jeurys Familia (2-0).
But Nido, who had three hits on Monday, pulled it out for the Mets with his second homer of the season, a two-out drive to left off struggling Atlanta closer Will Smith (0-4).
Edwin Diaz worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his seventh save.
“Man, whatever it takes,” Nido said. “This team has a big heart.”
The three-time defending NL East champion Braves lost their third in a row and can't seem to build any momentum. They dropped to 19-23 and haven't been above .500 all season.
“We haven't gotten on a roll yet,” Smith said. “We're too good not to get on a roll.”
Making his second career start, Atlanta's Tucker Davidson retired the first seven New York hitters before Hunter’s hit. The rookie left-hander went six innings, allowing five hits and three runs.
It was a solid outing, but not enough against a New York team that got a little extra boost from Pillar.
“As soon as he walked in, it lifted everybody's spirits up,” Nido said. “Seeing him here to support us, that's a true leader.”
Mets right fielder Khalil Lee got his first start in the big leagues.
It's one he'd probably rather forget — at least at the plate.
Lee struck out in all four at-bats, though he did make a diving catch in the sixth to deny the Braves a hit.
Mets: Minor league outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong, New York's first-round draft pick a year ago, will undergo surgery on his right shoulder. An MRI revealed a tear of the labrum as well as injury to the articular cartilage of the shoulder. ... The Mets got a rare bit of encouraging injury news when an MRI gave starter Taijuan Walker a clean bill of health. He was forced to leave Monday’s 3-1 win over the Braves after only three innings, but manager Luis Rojas said the issue appears to be something in Walker's windup and delivery. The team will study video to try to determine the cause of the problem.
Braves: Davidson got the nod as the Braves audition possible replacements for RHP Huascar Ynoa, who is expected to miss at least two months with a broken right hand. Ynoa injured himself by punching the dugout bench following a poor start at Milwaukee.
The NL East rivals wrap up their three-game series Wednesday, with the Braves sending RHP Charlie Morton (2-2, 5.08 ERA) to the mound against LHP David Peterson (1-3, 4.86).
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