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Jeff McNeil saves Mets from ugly doubleheader sweep by Braves

Jeff McNeil sat for Game 1 of Monday’s doubleheader and played only five innings in the nightcap, but that presence was enough to help save the Mets from getting swept.

Jeff McNeil sat for Game 1 of Monday’s doubleheader and played only five innings in the nightcap, but that presence was enough to help save the Mets from getting swept.

On a day the Mets were stuck in neutral offensively, McNeil smashed an RBI double that accounted for the only run of a 1-0 victory over the Braves in Game 2 of a doubleheader.

The Mets lost 2-0 in Game 1 — their first time getting shut out in the second half after averaging 5.67 runs in their previous nine games.

The doubleheader began a stretch in which the first-place Mets play division opponents 15 times in 18 games. Their most imminent threat is the Phillies, who moved within 3 ½ games of the lead. But the Braves, who sit five games behind, still have three shots at the Mets in this series.

Jeff McNeil drove in the Mets’ only run of the doubleheader in a 1-0 win over the Braves in Game 2 on Monday.

McNeil, who stroked a pinch-hit, go-ahead double on Sunday, saved this day from becoming a disaster by hitting a shot over Guillermo Heredia’s head in center field in the fifth inning to bring in Brandon Nimmo with the only run of the nightcap. McNeil started at second base in the nightcap after a three-game absence because of fatigue in his left leg. After his double, he departed the game for a pinch runner. McNeil’s hitting streak reached 13 games with a first-inning single.

“I kind of feel like I’m getting my swing back,” said McNeil, who slumped for much of the first half, but is 21-for-63 (.333) in July. “I’m getting some good pitches to hit and putting some good swings on it.”

In a bullpen game started by Aaron Loup, the Mets used six pitchers who combined for the shutout in the nightcap. Anthony Banda went the longest, two innings. Edwin Diaz struck out the side in the ninth for his 22nd save.

“We had a plan as far as knowing Loupy was going to start and after that it was all hands on deck,” Banda said.

In Game 1, Kyle Muller stifled the Mets over five shutout innings in which he allowed four hits and two walks with three strikeouts. The left-hander was recalled from Triple-A last week and made his fifth major league start.

The Mets entered the day with a .626 OPS against lefty starting pitchers. Against right-handed starters they had a .733 OPS.

“We have a lot of guys that can click and connect good at-bats against lefties,” manager Luis Rojas said. “I know we just got shut out, but we feel very confident. We are going to see more lefties. Max Fried is on the way to face us, [Drew] Smyly is on the way to face us, so we trust our offense against lefties.”

The Mets had their best chance against Muller in the fifth, but Pete Alonso — who had homered five times in his previous seven games — hit a chopper to third that became an inning-ending double play after Brandon Drury had delivered a pinch-hit double and Jonathan Villar walked.

Marcus Stroman’s bunt for a hit and Villar’s single in the third gave the Mets the makings of a rally, but Muller rebounded to strike out Alonso and Michael Conforto in succession.

Stroman followed the best performance of his Mets career with a solid outing. Overall, the right-hander surrendered two earned runs on eight hits over five innings with four strikeouts in slightly raising his ERA from 2.59 to 2.63.

In Cincinnati last Wednesday he threw an eight-inning shutout in which he allowed only one hit. His importance to the Mets rotation has increased with Jacob deGrom on the injured list and Taijuan Walker struggling since the All-Star break.

Dansby Swanson barely missed clearing the center-field fence leading off the fourth and was sent back to second base after umpire Jose Navas had initially signaled for a homer. Orlando Arcia’s RBI fielder’s choice gave the Braves a 2-0 lead after Stephen Vogt singled Swanson to third.

Stroman pulled a Houdini act to escape the third with only one run allowed. After Joc Pederson stroked an RBI double, Stroman struck out Ozzie Albies and intentionally walked Freddie Freeman to load the bases. The ensuing batter, Austin Riley, hit into an inning-ending double play.

The Braves’ rally had started with Heredia’s leadoff double. The pitcher Muller, after earlier signaling bunt, chopped a grounder through the third-base hole — for his first major league hit — to put runners on the corners for the Braves.

“We scored one run in two games and we won one of them, so fundamentals executed,” Rojas said.

This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Mike Puma

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