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Mets go up 9 1/2 games in NL East, drop magic number to 12

Yoenis Cespedes of the New York Mets celebrates

Yoenis Cespedes of the New York Mets celebrates with Daniel Murphy after hitting a solo home run in the eighth inning of the game against the Atlanta Braves on Sept. 12, 2015 at Turner Field in Atlanta. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Todd Kirkland

ATLANTA - Exactly eight years ago Sunday, the Mets awakened with a seven-game lead in the National League East with just 17 to play, fresh off a victory over the Braves.

Even casual historians know what came next.

But as the Mets enter similar territory again, only the most hardened of alarmists could envision a repeat of 2007. The Mets have made a habit out of getting up from gut shots, as they did once more Saturday night when Kelly Johnson's go-ahead RBI single in the ninth cemented a 6-4 victory.

The clutch hit came after the Mets squandered a three-run lead, their advantage evaporating on a single swing. Adonis Garcia's pinch-hit three-run homer stunned setup man Tyler Clippard, who started the night with a 1.48 ERA since his arrival from the Athletics just before the trade deadline.

But the Mets quickly reclaimed the lead. Travis d'Arnaud roped a ground-rule double to the gap in right-centerfield ahead of Johnson, who burned his former team with what proved to be a game-winner.

Yoenis Cespedes grounded into a force to tack on an insurance run, his second RBI after blasting a key solo shot in the eighth.

Closer Jeurys Familia notched his 40th save as the Mets opened a 91/2-game advantage in the division over the fading Nationals.

These Mets have the pitching. Those Mets did not. And as if on cue, fireballing rookie Noah Syndergaard reinforced that distinction with a virtuoso performance.

In his first start since Aug. 30, the righthander rendered the Braves helpless over seven innings, when he gave up just one run, two hits and a walk with eight strikeouts.

Cespedes homered for the eighth time in 11 games, this one a wall-scraping solo shot in the eighth to stretch the Mets' lead to three runs. The homer proved a key as the Mets resisted a late push by the Braves.

The Mets got run-scoring hits out of David Wright and d'Arnaud. Wright also scored on a wild pitch, his reward for being alert when Williams Perez bounced one past the catcher in the fourth.

It was yet another example of the Mets, undaunted by prosperity, methodically dispatching an inferior opponent. Vaulted by their three-game sweep of the Nationals, the Mets have won six straight games, the longest active winning streak in the majors.

Meanwhile, the Nationals have yet to win since absorbing the season-defining sweep. Another day brought another dose of sour news, with the announcement that setup man Drew Storen will miss the rest of the season.

Storen fractured his thumb while slamming his locker shut -- his frustration simmering after allowing Cespedes' dramatic homer in Wednesday's stirring Mets comeback.

With a victory in Sunday's series finale and another Nationals loss, the Mets could return to Citi Field with a double-digit advantage in the standings.

"Well, I'm surprised," Mets manager Terry Collins said of his team's lengthy lead before the game. "I'm surprised, I'm very surprised, because they have a good team."

Syndergaard, 23, could have shown a bit of rust in his first start since being shut down temporarily to conserve his innings. But aside from the first inning, marked by Freddie Freeman's RBI single, Syndergaard pitched as if he had never been iced.

His fastball blazed, touching triple digits on the Turner Field radar gun. Just as critically, he commanded it with precision, at one point overwhelming 11 straight Braves.

The Mets had once struggled so badly to score runs, forcing their pitchers to endure on nothing more than table scraps.

Few believed it would be enough to fend off the Nationals. Now, little question remains.

The Mets shaved their magic number to 12 with 20 games to play. Only a collapse that would dwarf the meltdown of 2007 stands in the way of the franchise's first playoff appearance since 2006.


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