ATLANTA — These days, nothing comes easy for the Mets. Consider Friday night’s 8-6 victory over the Braves, which came precariously close to devolving into a debacle before closer Jeurys Familia survived a zany ninth.
Lefthander Steven Matz got chased after 4 1⁄3 innings, when he nearly squandered an 8-0 lead. He allowed six runs in the fifth inning alone.
Before his implosion, television cameras spotted him in the dugout rubbing his left elbow, the same one that gave him tightness in his last outing. In his final inning of work, his velocity dipped slightly before manager Terry Collins emerged with the hook.
However, after the game, Collins said Matz told him that the elbow didn’t hurt at all.
Meanwhile, Yoenis Cespedes returned from a sprained wrist only to provide another health scare. Though he remained in the game, Cespedes appeared to badly roll his left ankle while getting picked off in the seventh.
Despite the scares, the Mets beat the last-place Braves for the first time in five tries.
James Loney hit a three-run homer, Travis d’Arnaud knocked in three runs, Wilmer Flores ripped an RBI double and Matz helped himself with a sacrifice fly.
For the second time this week, reliever Hansel Robles delivered a timely multiple-inning outing. Robles recorded the final two outs in the fifth — bailing out Matz — then stayed for two more shutout frames. He finished with 2 2⁄3 scoreless innings, just one outing after allowing just one run in a career-high 3 2⁄3 innings in relief of the injured Bartolo Colon on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Familia established a franchise record, saving his first 25 chances to begin the season, passing the mark of 24 by Armando Benitez in 2001. Familia did it by recording the final four outs, the final three in bizarre fashion.
He did it with the help of a fluky double play. With two on and nobody out in the ninth, Chase d’Arnaud bunted a little liner down the third-base line. Flores dove to catch it on the fly, but when the ball popped out, the runners failed to move up. Flores tagged third base then fired for the force at second, extricating Familia from trouble.
The final out came on a strikeout in the dirt, which required a rushed throw by d’Arnaud and a sprawling effort by James Loney at first base.
Of course, that Familia’s services were even needed was stunning turn of events.
For four innings, Matz made quick work of the Braves, pitching as if he were double-parked on the LIE. He only gave up a first-inning single to Ender Inciarte, who was wiped out on a double play.
Then, it all came apart.
“We will keep a close eye on him,” Collins said before the game, a reference to Matz’s tender elbow, which also gave him enough trouble in May to have one of his starts pushed back.
Yet, when things went south and the Braves hammered him in the fifth, Matz was given plenty of leeway before the manager intervened. But there were others complicit in the brutal inning.
In centerfield, Cespedes misplayed a Nick Markakis fly ball so badly that it dropped 20 feet behind him and to his right. Later, the Braves won a challenge on a close play first base to extend the rally.
By the time Matz came out of the game, he had allowed a three-run homer to pinch hitter Brandon Snyder, a two-run double to Adonis Garcia, and an RBI single to Freddie Freeman.
Through his first four innings, Matz’s fastball averaged about 94 mph. But when he got blitzed in the fifth, his heater dipped into the 92-93 mph range.
Matz’s outing was his shortest since his disastrous start to begin the season, when he allowed seven runs in 1 2⁄3 innings against the Marlins.
The lefty also equaled a season-high by allowing nine hits. For the first time in his career, Matz did not record a strikeout.