NEW YORK (AP) – Mike Soroka recovered from a shaky start in his playoff tuneup, but the banged-up Atlanta Braves limped into October with a 7-6 loss to the New York Mets in 11 innings Sunday when Dominic Smith hit a game-ending, three-run homer on his first competitive swing in more than two months.
Nine days after clinching their second consecutive NL East title, the Braves finally learned their postseason opponent when St. Louis won the NL Central with a 9-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs. Atlanta will open a best-of-five Division Series at home against the Cardinals on Thursday, with veteran left-hander Dallas Keuchel expected to start for the Braves.
Soroka, an All-Star this year, is lined up for Game 3 on the road – where the 22-year-old rookie is 7-1 with a 1.35 ERA that is by far the lowest in the majors.
Pitching for the first time in 10 days, Soroka was tagged for three runs and four hits in the first inning of the regular-season finale. J.D. Davis socked a two-run homer off the right-hander, who settled down after that and lasted 85 pitches. He gave up three runs and seven hits over five innings, with seven strikeouts and two walks.
Smith was reinstated from the injured list Thursday after being sidelined since July 27 with a stress reaction in his left foot. He hadn’t gotten into a game until he replaced Pete Alonso at first base in the top of the 11th, mainly so the rookie home run king could walk off the field to one last ovation from Mets fans.
But lo and behold, New York put two runners aboard in the bottom half and Smith, batting in Alonso’s spot with two outs, drove a 1-0 pitch from Grant Dayton (0-1) over the right-center fence to give the Mets a three-game sweep and a thrilling finish to their second-half surge that fell short of a playoff berth.
An excited Smith tossed his helmet between third base and home plate, then was swarmed and doused by jubilant teammates as his uniform top was ripped off by Alonso in a wild scene.
Chris Mazza (1-1) got two outs for his first major league win, and the Mets took their jerseys off and gave them to fans after one more comeback win.
New York went 46-26 in the second half and finished third in the NL East at 86-76 – a nine-game improvement over last year. On deck in the coming days in all likelihood, a decision about the future of manager Mickey Callaway, who could be fired after two seasons at the helm without a trip to the postseason.
Alonso received a series of standing ovations from Citi Field fans who also chanted his name, one night after hitting his 53rd home run to break the rookie record set by Yankees star Aaron Judge in 2017.
Alonso doffed his helmet and later tipped his cap to the crowd of 31,523 when he was replaced by Smith. Alonso went 1 for 5 with a single and became the only rookie since 1900 – and first Mets player overall – to win the outright major league home run crown.