"I don't know if it's going to hurt," manager Terry Collins said of his team's momentum. "It all depends on [Saturday], the outcome. If this first game goes 15 innings, we're going to be in trouble. So will they."
The Mets experienced plenty of trouble early, in danger of suffering their 10th straight loss in games after Matt Harvey starts, when a series of fortuitous circumstances saved them in the eighth.
After John Buck led off with a walk and Ruben Tejada singled, Daniel Murphy narrowed the margin to one with a two-out single, and Tejada was able to advance to third when center fielder B.J. Upton bobbled the wet ball. Moments later, Braves reliever Anthony Varvaro unleashed a game-tying wild pitch amidst a steady rain.
Varvaro completed the inning, but the grounds crew started rolling out the tarp moments later.
"Man, it was tough to see," Murphy said. "But as tough as it was to see, I'm sure it was tough to get a grip on the ball and your footing on the mound. So it was an equal playing field. We were really glad to tie the score up there."
It was indeed a fortunate break for the Mets, who fell into a late hole when Greg Burke served up a two-run, go-ahead single to Evan Gattis in the eighth. Starting pitcher Jeremy Hefner had actually performed quite well against the Braves, rebounding from two early runs to give the Mets a quality start. But his teammates again struggled at the plate, drawing the Mets into a tie game late.
It was Scott Rice who cracked first, walking Justin Upton and allowing a single to Freddie Freeman. But it was Burke who cracked most, walking Dan Uggla before allowing Gattis' pinch-hit single to drive in the go-ahead runs.
The Harvey Hangover seemed to take effect immediately in the first inning, when Hefner walked Justin Upton and served up a two-run homer to Freeman with two outs. But Hefner struck out the final batter of that inning, keying a run of eight consecutive outs. He had retired 16 of 18 when the Mets decided to pinch-hit for him in the sixth inning, nursing a one-run lead.
"Outstanding, outstanding," was how Collins classified Hefner's performance. "When he came off after the sixth, he could've probably started the seventh inning because he was feeling OK. But I was so excited that he pitched so well, after he's been so down about not winning a game, I said, 'I'm not going to let this kid lose this game. I'm not going to do that.'"
As it turns out, the Mets neither won nor lost. Chipping away on Lucas Duda's RBI single in the first, they tied things the first time on Buck's leadoff homer in the fourth, then took the lead against Braves starter Kris Medlen on Marlon Byrd's RBI single in the fifth. Medlen otherwise showcased plenty of swing-and-miss stuff, striking out nine Mets batters in six innings.
It was enough to keep the Braves within striking distance, which proved significant. As soon as Hefner departed, they tied the game at 3, with Uggla launching a leadoff homer against LaTroy Hawkins in the seventh.
In perhaps the game's most intriguing subplot, struggling first baseman Ike Davis was 0-for-4 with four strikeouts, eliciting increasingly loud boos from a scattered crowd after each at-bat. The Mets have spent significant time over the past week discussing Davis' future, including a potential demotion to the Minor Leagues.
"I know it's wearing on him," Collins said, noting that Davis took extra swings in the batting cage during the rain delay. "These players get to the big leagues because they're very talented guys. They haven't had to deal with much failure in their whole lives. When you deal with what he's going through right now, it's pretty hard to take it when you've never been there before. Sometimes you think it's a growing lesson, but other times, it can break you down."
Fans holding ticket stubs for Friday's game may exchange them for tickets to Saturday's quasi-doubleheader beginning at 6:10 p.m., or Sunday's series finale. Full information is available here.
Friday's originally scheduled Fireworks Night will take place following Saturday's game.