Inciarte's catch robs Mets of NL wild-card lead

NEW YORK -- Ender Inciarte's game-saving catch had a second dispiriting effect Wednesday. It also deprived the New York Mets of a lead in the National League wild-card race.

Inciarte reached over the right-center wall to turn a would-be walk-off, three-run homer off the bat of Yoenis Cespedes into the game’s final out, and the Atlanta Braves completed a devastating three-game sweep of the Mets with a 4-3 victory Wednesday at Citi Field.

The Mets (80-72) could have taken sole possession of the wild-card lead had Cespedes' shot cleared the fence (or they had not blown a 3-0 lead earlier), but they remain in a three-way tie for a pair of wild-card spots with the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants after all three teams lost on Wednesday.

"I think it was pretty cool," Inciarte said. "I went a long way. I thought that ball was gone off the bat. But it was the last play of the game, so I was going to try for it. This is probably the best catch I've ever made. I was really pumped up. I caught the ball, and I knew I had it, but the fans were waiting until I took it out of the glove."

An agitated Cespedes took only one question after the game, and that took prodding from Mets staff. He said through an interpreter about Inciarte's catch, which cost him homer No. 31 of the season: "I knew I hit the ball well. I knew there was a good chance it was going to make it out. But he made a better play."

Inciarte became the third player in the majors this season to rob a game-tying or go-ahead homer in the ninth inning. He joined Milwaukee's Keon Broxton, who robbed Anthony Rizzo on Sept. 7, and Texas' Nomar Mazara, who robbed Todd Frazier on April 23.

The last time the Mets were victimized by a game-ending catch on a would-be game-tying or go-ahead home run in the ninth inning was May 16, 2014. Down 5-2 with two out and two on, Daniel Murphy hit a fly ball to right field that Washington's Jayson Werth caught at the top of the fence.

The Braves tied the score at 3-3 in the eighth Wednesday, when first baseman James Loney's error allowed Inciarte to reach, and he ultimately scored on Matt Kemp's sacrifice fly against Jeurys Familia. Familia, who had inherited a pair of baserunners with one out in the eighth, was charged with his fifth blown save in 54 chances.

Manager Terry Collins had lifted setup man Addison Reed with one out and Inciarte at first base to get a matchup of Josh Smoker against Freddie Freeman, a left-handed hitter. Freeman singled, though. And Collins returned to the mound to insert Familia for the ill-fated, five-out-save bid. Inciarte and Freeman had a double steal after Familia entered to put Inciarte in position to score on Kemp's sacrifice fly.

The Mets lost the season series to Atlanta 10-9. And that's a big reason why they're in a dogfight in the wild-card battle with 10 games remaining instead of secure in a postseason spot and flirting with the first-place Washington Nationals.

None of the remaining games on the Mets' schedule are against teams with winning records. The Philadelphia Phillies now arrive at Citi Field for four games, followed by three-game road series with the Miami Marlins and Phillies to close the regular season.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals face the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Giants face the San Diego Padres, Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers.

"The perception is, 'Boy, you guys have got the easiest schedule,'" Collins said. "When you look at wins and losses, we do. But don't tell the guys on the other side of the field [with the Braves] that, because they're playing pretty good. They're really swinging the bats. And, by the way, Miami, they've got the big guy back (Giancarlo Stanton). They're still in the hunt. So it's not going to be a cakewalk.

"And we don't plan on it being easy. We plan on having to fight for everything we've got. I wouldn't have it any other way. I think it's going to be a lot of fun. ... All we've got to do is keep our heads up.

"In this market, the sky falls every time you lose. And we've got to make sure our players don't get caught up in that. We only got back in this because we took it day to day. And we got hot, and we ran off a good streak, and we got in the hunt."