By MIKE FITZPATRICK, AP Baseball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — With the Mets needing a comeback in the pressure of a tight pennant race, Eduardo Escobar was a one-man show.
Escobar homered and drove in five late runs — including the game-winning single in the 10th inning — to rally New York past the Miami Marlins 5-4 on Wednesday night and back into sole possession of first place in the NL East.
“It was an incredible moment,” Escobar said through a translator. “What a game that was and how it just turned out.”
By overcoming a four-run deficit, the Mets moved a game ahead of the Braves heading into a three-game showdown between the teams in Atlanta this weekend. The defending World Series champions lost 3-2 in 10 innings at last-place Washington, one night after pulling even with New York.
“It’s going to be huge. Obviously, this is pretty much deciding the division,” winning pitcher Drew Smith said. “I’m sure it’s going to be as close to a playoff atmosphere as you can get without being in the playoffs.”
Of course, Hurricane Ian could affect the schedule in Atlanta, where the teams are set to square off Friday night following a mutual off day. Both clubs have six games remaining in the only division race not decided.
One win at Truist Park would give the Mets the season-series tiebreaker over Atlanta.
After this weekend, New York finishes the regular season with three home games against Washington, while the Braves play at Miami.
On this night, the Mets fell behind 4-0 but Escobar hit a two-run homer in the seventh and tied it on a two-run single with two outs in the eighth.
“He’s a catalyst,” Smith said.
Both those big hits came right-handed. The switch-hitter was batting from the left side when his RBI single off Dylan Floro (1-3) in the 10th scored automatic runner Francisco Lindor from second base — after an intentional walk to Jeff McNeil brought Escobar to the plate with two on and one out.
“A little bit of the force, a little bit of the matchup, and you trust Flo what he’s going to do,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly explained. “Pretty much Escobar all night.”
It was the first time a Mets player had at least five RBIs and knocked in all their runs in a walk-off win. After a slow start to his first season in New York, Escobar is batting .330 with eight homers and 24 RBIs in September.
“The answer’s probably nothing other than he just never gave in,” manager Buck Showalter said. “He never gives in. Was the same guy every day.”
Smith (3-3) struck out two in a perfect 10th and New York improved to 10-2 in extra innings this season.
Jesús Luzardo mowed down the Mets for six innings, striking out Pete Alonso three times and taking a two-hit shutout into the seventh.
But then McNeil led off with a single and Escobar chased the left-hander with a drive to left field that gave him his fifth career 20-homer season.
Marlins reliever Tanner Scott, pitching for the first time since Sept. 16, walked three batters in the eighth to load the bases and Escobar grounded a clutch single off Richard Bleier through an open right side to tie it 4-all.
“I played with him in ’18 with the Diamondbacks and I knew what he could do,” Mets starter Taijuan Walker said. “For him to come through for us late in the season, it’s huge. I knew he could do this. And he’s doing it at the right time for us.”
Alonso raised both arms after sliding headfirst across home plate, and a fired-up Escobar pumped his fist and pounded his chest in excitement as he shouted toward the Mets’ dugout.
Bryan De La Cruz hit a two-run homer off Walker and finished a triple short of the cycle for the fourth-place Marlins. JJ Bleday had a sacrifice fly, and Brian Anderson added an RBI double.
Showalter sounded a little annoyed that no schedule adjustments had been made yet to the series in Atlanta to help the teams get all three games in this weekend or avoid a potential makeup doubleheader.
“All that’s up to Atlanta. We don’t have much input at all. I mean, can’t you tell?” Showalter said. “It’s not our home game.”
Showalter said the Mets were planning to bring a taxi squad to Atlanta as insurance — in case rough weather makes it difficult to get reinforcements there for an injured player, for example.
Marlins: SS Miguel Rojas sat out after leaving Tuesday night’s game in the seventh inning when tendinitis flared up in his right wrist and affected his throwing hand and forearm. … LHP Steven Okert (tender biceps) threw a bullpen.
Mets: There’s still no timetable for the return of All-Star RF Starling Marte, sidelined since Sept. 7 with a partially broken middle finger on his right (throwing) hand. He received an injection and remains in a splint but is still feeling some discomfort. “I know it’s frustrating for him,” Showalter said. “He just needs to get to a point where he can grip a ball and grip a bat. Not there yet.” … RHP Mychal Givens had two strikeouts in a scoreless inning during a rehab outing for Triple-A Syracuse.
Marlins: Another chance to play spoiler when they open a four-game series Thursday night at Milwaukee, which is chasing an NL wild card. LHP Braxton Garrett (3-6, 3.52 ERA) faces Brewers LHP Eric Lauer (10-7, 3.96).
Mets: RHP Jacob deGrom (5-3, 2.93 ERA) is scheduled to pitch the series opener in Atlanta against LHP Max Fried (13-7, 2.50), who is 2-2 with a 3.00 ERA in four starts vs. the Mets this season. New York is 9-7 versus the Braves, including 3-4 in Atlanta.
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