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NEW YORK — The Mets are not yet mathematically dead. Their postseason hopes seem bleak, though. They can only control this: Winning. 

One reason that has been difficult for them this season is because their starting pitching has often imploded. Short starts. Poor starts. Both at the same time. 

With the Mets fighting to keep pace in the chase for a playoff berth, rookie David Peterson tossed the best start of his career. Because of it, the Mets (24-28) on Saturday beat the Braves, 7-2, at Citi Field and, for now, kept their postseason dream alive.

The Mets are only 1.5 games back of a wild card spot with eight to play. 

Peterson struck out a career-high 10 batters as he went six innings, matching the longest start of his career (he also went six on Aug. 2 in Atlanta). He only allowed one run, a sixth-inning solo blast from Adam Duvall, and threw a career-high 102 pitches. 

“Honestly, he looks like a guy that’s been in the league for so long,” Robinson Canó said. 

Sep 19, 2020; New York City, New York, USA; New York Mets catcher Robisnon Chirinos (26) greets pitcher David Peterson (77) retiring the side in the fourth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field. (Photo: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports)

Other than Jacob deGrom, the Mets’ starting rotation has been a mess. The two offseason acquisitions, Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha, have underperformed. Injuries forced the club to stretch out two bullpen arms in Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman. Steven Matz has regressed. The team has required a couple spot starters, too. 

Peterson has been a pleasant surprise. He’s only turned in one poor start — against the Phillies on Labor Day. He’s shown promise, his best quality being the poise that allows him to escape trouble. 

On Saturday, Peterson showcased that ability once again as he kept the Braves off the board until his final inning. The Mets’ offense remained rather tame, which made Peterson’s performance that much more important. 

Peterson has proved he belongs at this level. 

“It’s been awesome,” he said. “I felt ready to contribute in any way possible and in any way that the coaching staff and the team asked. It’s been a blessing for me to be up here, learn from the older guys and get some experience this year.”

Even if it seems unlikely the Mets reach the postseason, anything can happen. Each night, it feels like their season is on the line. They must win most, if not all, of their games the rest of the way. 

On Saturday, the rookie left-hander helped keep them alive. 

“We know we’ve got a great team,” Canó said. “I know we’ve been in some tough games. This is a tough year for all of us. When you’ve got to play 60 games, you have to be ready from the first inning to the last. It’s like you’re playing a playoff (game) every game. But as a team, we stay together, we keep grinding. We know our goals, we know what we want.”

Peterson maneuvers out of trouble

This season, Peterson has faced many spots in which he could have unraveled. Good starts could have turned ugly. 

Many times, he’s found ways to maneuver out of trouble. Sometimes he’s limited the damage, other times he’s escaped unscathed. 

He did the latter for most of Saturday’s start. 

The first inning: Peterson walked Ronald Acuña Jr. to begin the game, but picked him off at first. 

The second inning: Peterson allowed a walk and a double to begin the inning. The Braves had men on second and third with no outs. Then Peterson got a pop-up and two strikeouts to keep Atlanta off the board. “Personally,” he said, “I thought that was the biggest inning — for me, anyways.”

The third inning: Peterson worked around two walks to hold Atlanta scoreless. 

In the first inning, Canó gave the Mets the lead with a two-run single. Leads have often evaporated for the Mets because of bad starting pitching. 

Peterson never coughed it up, though. 

“He gets into a groove and starts mixing and gets some swings and misses, and he’s able to get out of tough situations,” manager Luis Rojas said. “He’s done it repeatedly. I think his poise, along with the stuff, is what’s led him to work out of some tough situations he’s encountered in his young career.”

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Peterson, who owns a 3.80 ERA, became the first rookie lefty to strike out 10 for the Mets since Hisanori Takahashi in 2010. His pitches produced a career-high 23 swings and missed on Saturday. 

Peterson said his slider, which netted 14 whiffs, felt as good as it could. Rojas mentioned this: Peterson missed with a few early fastballs, but found his command with that pitch, which set up the slider. 

The best example of Peterson’s stellar night might be that he struck out Freddie Freeman swinging three times. Freeman, who could win NL MVP, entered the game batting .359 with 11 homers and 48 RBI. 

“He’s been around a while for a reason,” Peterson said. “He’s a great hitter and a tough out. It was mixing things up. Fastball, slider, left-on-left changeup. It takes everything to get that guy out.”

Mets blow it open 

Jeurys Familia had just allowed a solo home run in the top of the eighth. The Braves were within a run. 

If you’re a Mets fan, you were probably scared. 

Not again, you probably thought. 

Well, in the bottom half of the inning, the bats made sure you wouldn’t need to worry. They scored four runs to put the game out of reach, ensuring there would be no unnecessary drama. 

“That’s a team that’s always got guys in scoring position, that has a lot of guys that can hit,” Canó said of the Braves. “All of them from one to nine, they can do the job and change the game with a swing.”

The Mets didn’t want to give Atlanta that opportunity. 

Dominic Smith and Canó led off the inning with back-to-back solo shots off Atlanta reliever Shane Greene — the fifth time the Mets have hit back-to-back homers this season. 

Two batters later, Jeff McNeil doubled. Then Greene hit Giménez. Robinson Chirinos — who has struggled offensively this season but doubled home a run in the fourth — singled to load the bases. 

Brandon Nimmo provided the breathing room with a two-run single. 

Suddenly, the Mets led by five. 

Wilson comes up big

Justin Wilson entered into an awful situation.

Bases loaded. One out. Two-run lead. 

The worst part: Freeman at the plate. Not only that, but Freeman had already struck out three times against Peterson. He was due. 

“I’m thinking: Execute,” Wilson said of his mindset. “You can think whatever with Freddie. He’s not an easy AB for anybody. He’s a great hitter. He’s well-proven.”

“I would say if he’s not the best, he’s got to be in the top-3 for sure,” Canó said. “We all know what a guy like Freddie Freeman can do in this game. He can hit the ball from line to line, he can hit a homer, he can do all kinds of stuff.”

Wilson, however, got Freeman to ground into a 4-6-3 double play to end the top of the seventh inning. It was one of the game’s biggest moments. 

“After going 1-0 on him, with how patient he is sometimes, you got to kind of go right back after him,” Wilson said. “Didn’t execute my first pitch and just wanted to execute my second. Truthfully wasn’t a very good pitch but hit it hard right at Robbie and got the double play.”

Before that, it seemed the Mets could lose after Miguel Castro loaded the bases. 

Instead, Wilson saved them. 

An inning later, New York put the finishing touches on a victory it needed to remain in the postseason chase. 

“We’ve got a lot of fight on this team,” Wilson said. “The fact that we can still compete for a spot makes every game important, which makes the atmosphere that much better. I wouldn’t say it’s any more difficult, but down the stretch, the losses hurt a little bit more and the wins feel a little bit better, just because of the situation we’re in.”

Justin Toscano is the Mets beat writer for For unlimited access to all Mets analysis, news, trades and more, please subscribe today and download our app.

Email: [email protected] Twitter: @justinctoscano