NEW YORK — Whether the comparison is versus the field or in head-to-head matchups, the New York Mets have simply been a bit better than the Atlanta Braves so far this season.
That was no different Thursday night in the latest showdown between the National League East Division rivals.
Deadline acquisition Tyler Naquin homered twice in his home debut, Edwin Diaz locked down his first two-inning save as a major leaguer and the Mets beat the Braves 6-4 to open a pivotal five-game series in the division race.
Pete Alonso and Daniel Vogelbach hit back-to-back homers in the third for the Mets (65-38), who extended their lead to 4 1/2 games over the second-place Braves (63-42), the reigning World Series champions who are also seeking a fifth straight NL East title. Alonso, who began the scoring with a single in the first inning, finished with three RBIs.
Carlos Carrasco (12-4) extended his scoreless streak to a career-high 23 1/3 innings before Atlanta rookie Michael Harris II laced a two-out RBI single and Ronald Acuña Jr. followed with a two-run homer in the fifth.
Carrasco retired the final four batters he faced — No. 2 hitter Dansby Swanson to end the fifth, followed by Matt Olson, Austin Riley and Eddie Rosario — to allow Mets manager Buck Showalter to arrange his bullpen so Diaz could get the final six outs.
"The last inning he pitched was probably the key inning," Showalter said. "Set up the rest of the game for us by him being able to get those three guys out after giving up some runs."
Harris had another RBI single in the seventh to bring up Acuña as the potential tying run, but Adam Ottavino struck out the 2018 NL rookie of the year.
Diaz entered in the eighth — though his trumpet-blaring warmup song, "Narco," didn't begin until he was already on the mound — and needed just 11 pitches to retire Swanson, Olson and Riley via a groundout and a pair of strikeouts.
"I was trying to run (to the mound) at the same pace of the song," Diaz said with a laugh.
Rosario led off the ninth with a single and went to second on a wild pitch but was stranded there. Diaz fell behind Orlando Arcia 3-0 before getting him to hit a comebacker on a check swing. Diaz jogged to the bag himself to record the final out of his 24th save this year.
Since splitting a four-game series in New York at the start of May, the Mets have won three of four against the Braves, including two of three in Atlanta last month.
Showalter said the aggressive use of Diaz was as much about getting the closer into a game — he hadn't pitched since last Friday — as it was about the importance of the series.
"He needed to pitch tonight — he was going to pitch tonight," Showalter said. "I do think it's that time of year where we kind of go to a different mode of operations sometimes."
Braves manager Brian Snitker said he expected to see Diaz in the eighth.
"He'd been down for a long time," Snitker said. "He's a guy that's efficient with his pitches. He throws a lot of strikes. Doesn't surprise me a bit that they did that."
Carrasco allowed three runs on four hits and one walk with six strikeouts in six innings.
Naquin, acquired from the Cincinnati Reds last Friday, hit solo shots in the second and sixth off Kyle Wright. He is the first player in Mets history to homer twice in his first home game for the team.
It was the fifth career two-homer game for Naquin and his first since he went deep twice for the Reds against the Miami Marlins on Aug. 22, 2021.
"Heck, if I'd been playing here four years, that's a good night," Naquin said.
Vogelbach had two hits. Francisco Lindor's 10-game hitting streak ended after he went 0-for-2 with two walks for the Mets.
Wright (13-5) allowed six runs on seven hits and two walks with four strikeouts in six innings. The four homers allowed were a career high for the 26-year-old right-hander who made his MLB debut four years ago. Wright was 6-0 with a 2.93 ERA in his previous seven starts.
"He wasn't as sharp as he's been and battled through," Snitker said. "Longball got him a little bit. One of them days."
Before the game, New York catcher James McCann was activated from the injured list. He went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts after missing more than three weeks with a strained left oblique.
McCann acknowledged he'd heard rumors that the Mets — whose catchers entered Thursday with three homers and a .523 on-base plus slugging percentage this season — might upgrade at the position prior to the trade deadline and said he was looking forward to contributing after two difficult seasons with the team.
The 32-year-old is hitting .222 with 12 homers and 57 RBIs in 152 games for the Mets.
"It's one of those things, you control what you can control," McCann said. "Obviously, the faith that they've put in us means a lot. But their expectations for me are never going to be as high as my expectations for me. I know what I can contribute to this team, both offensively and defensively."
The Braves officially added Raisel Iglesias to their active roster two days after they acquired him from the Los Angeles Angels. He is one of just three pitchers with three 30-save seasons since 2018, along with the New York Yankees' Aroldis Chapman and his new teammate, Braves closer Kenley Jansen.
The 32-year-old said he was happy to assume a setup role for the first time since 2016, when he was with the Reds.
"It's a privilege to share that bullpen with Kenley and all these guys," Iglesias said through an interpreter. "I'm looking forward to pitching in front of Kenley, if that's what it calls for, and setting him up for him to have success and for him to get the saves if that's what the situation calls for."
The scheduled starters for Friday night's game are right-handers Ian Anderson (9-6, 4.99 ERA) for Atlanta and Taijuan Walker (9-2, 2.79 ERA) for New York. The teams will play a doubleheader Saturday before Sunday's series finale.
On the injury front, Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies (broken left foot) played catch Wednesday, and right-hander Kirby Yates (Tommy John surgery) threw in back-to-back games for Triple-A Gwinnett on Tuesday and Wednesday for the first time since he was injured in August 2020.
In addition, right-hander Mike Soroka could begin throwing simulated games soon. He hasn't pitched since Aug. 3, 2020, due to twice tearing his right Achilles' tendon.