The heart of Atlanta’s lineup — Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman, Marcell Ozuna — was due up in the ninth inning. The Mets clung to a one-run lead. Luis Rojas asked one arm to warm up in the bullpen.
As Edwin Diaz took the long walk to the mound, he was alone with his thoughts. He was alone in his feelings.
“I came in calm,” Diaz said.
And he left ecstatic.
Following a disastrous first season with the Mets, in which Diaz posted a career-worst 5.59 ERA and was demoted from being closer after blowing seven saves, the 26-year-old reliever picked up a confidence-boosting save to close out the Mets’ season-opening 1-0 win over the Braves Friday at Citi Field.
Diaz, who posted a league-high 57 saves and a 1.96 ERA in 2018, saw how quickly his career could transform in one season. One year later, he expects to restore his All-Star reputation.
“It’s important for me. That’s what I’ve been looking for,” Diaz said. “That’s why I prepared so hard in the offseason and both spring trainings we had. I came in prepared. I came in calm. I had already looked at scouting reports of batters I was gonna face and I was just ready to go.”
With Seth Lugo — who replaced Diaz as closer last season — used in the sixth and seventh innings, followed by Justin Wilson, Diaz was chosen over Dellin Betances to keep the shutout intact.
The right-hander induced a first-pitch groundout from Albies, then walked Freeman. With the tying run on first base, Diaz struck out Ozuna on three pitches, then capped the win with a strikeout of Matt Adams.
In his first season as manager, Rojas didn’t give any thought to Diaz’s struggles as a closer last year.
“We’ve gone with what Diaz has shown to us this year,” Rojas said. “I know that ‘Sugar’ had a little bit of a challenge in the end of the season, but the way he threw in the beginning was lights out, like the ‘Sugar’ we know, like the ‘Sugar’ we have now. He’s done a tremendous job just being able to execute his pitches. We saw fastball swing and miss. We saw slider swing and miss. That’s the ‘Sugar’ we know. That’s why he was there closing the game with a 1-0 lead.”
As fake cheers filled the air from the speakers, Diaz unleashed a smile he rarely could showcase last season. Then, he gave a gift to Rojas.
“Usually I take the last out of every save that I get home with me, but for certain occasions I decide to give it to the people who deserve it,” Diaz said. “I couldn’t take that ball.”
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