Valdespin's walk and stolen base in the 10th inning Friday allowed the Mets to steal a wild, 7-5 win over the Braves, erasing one-run deficits in the eighth and ninth innings. Two days after Valdespin hit a pinch-hit, go-ahead home run against the Marlins, the image of him belly-flopping onto home plate at Turner Field will stick with his teammates for some time.
"He's exciting," manager Terry Collins said with a wry smile, a few minutes after Ruben Tejada drove home Valdespin with the winning run. "He plays with a lot of excitement, a lot of enthusiasm, especially when it's crunch time. You're going to get things that you don't expect sometimes."
Most of Friday's unexpected plot points took place with two outs. Laying off four pitches nowhere near the strike zone, Valdespin drew a pinch-hit, six-pitch walk against Jordan Walden to put the potential go-ahead run on base. But with his bullpen short and the possibility of more free baseball looming in front of him, Collins sent closer Bobby Parnell to the plate with plans for Valdespin to steal on the first pitch.
Had the stolen-base attempt been unsuccessful, Parnell simply would have returned to the mound for the bottom of the 10th. But after Valdespin successfully swiped the bag, jumping up and gleefully pointing at umpire Angel Hernandez, Collins called on Mike Baxter to pinch-hit.
The rest of the inning was vintage Valdespin. After Walden hit Baxter with a pitch, Valdespin raced all the way home from second base in a misguided attempt to score on a dead ball. Then he tried to steal third base with two outs, but the pitch was fouled away.
When Tejada finally dumped a single into center field, Valdespin once again sprinted home. Though there was no play at the plate, he face-planted onto the dirt in one last bit of showmanship.
"We don't win the game just hitting homers," Valdespin said. "We win the game taking a walk, base hit, being aggressive on the bases like I did tonight. That's my game."
It was a situation that Collins knew his team was fortunate to face. Twice, the Mets homered to erase late deficits against the league's top-ranked bullpen, leading to the knotted score in the 10th. After Scott Atchison allowed a go-ahead single in the bottom of the seventh inning, Marlon Byrd greeted Eric O'Flaherty with a game-tying homer in the eighth. Brandon Lyon was next to cough up the lead, serving up Evan Gattis' solo homer in the eighth. But again the Mets answered, this time when David Wright redirected a Craig Kimbrel fastball over the wall in center in the ninth.
"You try to get to that bullpen as best you can, and a lot of times you're unsuccessful at doing it," Wright said of the Braves, who entered the game with a league-best 1.94 ERA in relief. "They're one of the best of the game, and arguably the best in the game pitching the ninth. Anytime you get the opportunity to win a close game late against these guys, you've got to take advantage of it."
Added Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez: "That usually doesn't happen against our guys."
Still, the Mets nearly found a way to lose when Lyon returned for the ninth and served up a leadoff double to Ramiro Pena. Following a sacrifice bunt, Parnell entered and coaxed a popup and a groundout to strand the winning run on third.
"I felt like I threw some pretty good pitches," Parnell said. "It was a good outcome."
Mets starter Shaun Marcum pitched only into the fifth inning, needing LaTroy Hawkins' help to wriggle out of his final jam. The three runs that Marcum allowed undid the early work of New York's offense, which jumped on Mike Minor with John Buck's two-run homer in the first inning and Lucas Duda's solo shot in the second.
Duda's homer was the last hit that Minor allowed. The Braves' starter retired 18 in a row from the second through seventh innings, giving way to a pinch-hitter with his streak intact.
Only after Minor departed did the visitors begin their late push, from Byrd's home run to Wright's shot off Kimbrel to Valdespin's adventure around the bases. The Mets added an insurance run on Daniel Murphy's RBI single and, with Parnell already out of the game, Jeurys Familia recorded the final three outs for his first career save.
The result was what Collins called his team's best win of the season.
"I think it was," the manager said. "To come in here and have the lead, lose it, then come back twice -- it's pretty special. That was a big win for us."