Braves’ young stars answer Mets’ challenge in rebound win

If the Mets’ win Thursday was a message to Atlanta, their loss Friday was the Braves receiving that message and throwing it in the trash.

A day after the Mets held on in a victory dripping with emotion thanks to closer Edwin Diaz, the Braves’ young stars responded by putting on a show in a contest that started as a beatdown and ended with Atlanta escaping with a 9-6 win.

The Braves jumped all over Taijuan Walker early, scoring eight runs before the Mets could record a fourth out, and their defense consistently frustrated the home batters — and the Citi Field fans, who were relentless, particularly in jeering the Atlanta outfield.

Ronald Acuña Jr., the Braves’ 24-year-old star, tied his career high with four hits, including a second-inning single off Walker, after which he stole second and scored on another single.

But it was his robbery of Pete Alonso that was most impressive.

Ronald Acuña Jr. robs Pete Alonso of an extra-base hit in the first inning of the Mets’ 9-6 loss to the Braves.

In the bottom of the first, with the Braves already up 4-0, the Mets slugger tried to slice the gap in half. With a runner on, Alonso launched a shot to right field that should have at least gone for extra bases and might have cleared the fence — but Acuña timed his leap perfectly. The right fielder caught the ball with his glove above the wall, and he brought it back and pounded his chest upon landing and running toward his dugout.

There was some extra celebrating from an Atlanta outfield that went back and forth with the 40,305 fans in their ears.

“I heard in left [field], they were saying, ‘[Eddie] Rosario, you suck,’ ” center fielder Michael Harris II said after a big game of his own. “I saw [Rosario] point to his ring finger.”

The Braves, of course, are the reigning World Series champions, and Acuña said he quieted the crowd the same way.

Harris, the 21-year-old who is having a remarkable rookie season, used his arm and bat to silence the fans. He led off the top of the second inning with a solo home run before the Mets tested how strong an arm he has.

Michael Harris II belts a solo homer in the second inning of the Braves' win over the Mets.
Michael Harris II belts a solo homer in the second inning of the Braves’ win over the Mets.
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In the bottom of the second, Brandon Nimmo hit a bases-loaded single to center, and Mets third-base coach Joey Cora gave the green light to Luis Guillorme, who was trying to score from second base.

Harris threw a one-hop dart, and Guillorme never had a chance.

“I got the ball and took a peek at the third-base coach and saw him waving, so I was licking my chops,” said Harris, a Georgia native quite familiar with the rivalry, who wanted Guillorme to run. “Of course. I knew they would try to test me.”

The Braves, who moved within 3 ¹/₂ games of the Mets in the NL East, were in good spirits after the win over the division leaders and the division leader’s fans.

Acuña, who should know, said it felt like a playoff game. Harris, who might not know, appreciated the back-and-forth.

“It motivates you to want to be better,” said the speedy center fielder, who also took away a hit from Darin Ruf in the seventh inning. “Obviously they hate you because it’s a rivalry. You want to do better in front of them.”