Mets center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis scores the game-winning run off a fly ball hit by Mets right fielder Curtis Granderson in the 14th inning of Sunday's win against Atlanta. (Reuters)
NEW YORK -- A slow start in his first season with the New York Mets has made right fielder Curtis Granderson a popular target for unhappy fans at Citi Field.
But he was reminded that his Mets teammates remain quite fond of him late Sunday afternoon, when Granderson was mobbed at first base -- and even carried a few feet by catcher Anthony Recker -- after his sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 14th inning gave the Mets a 4-3 win over the Atlanta Braves.
"There is not a finer guy that you'd ever want to have on your team than him," Mets manager Terry Collins said of Granderson, whose community service work earned him the Marvin Miller Award in 2009 as well as a pair of nominations for the Branch Rickey Award.
"All's you can do is root for him and everybody does. So to have him come through, his teammates were genuinely excited for him."
The game-winning RBI didn't officially end a mammoth slump for Granderson, who signed a four-year, $60 million deal in December.
He was moved from cleanup to the second spot in the order Sunday and heard plenty of boos from the crowd of 33,131 when he went 0-for-6 as his hitless streak reached 16 at-bats and his season average fell to .127 (8-for-63).
But the three-time All-Star -- who is three years removed from leading the American League in runs scored and RBIs while playing for the cross-town Yankees -- is hopeful the sacrifice fly will help him jump-start his season.
"I needed something positive," Granderson said. "Keep trying different things out there and continue to keep working. Things will turn, I understand that I've done this before. It's just a matter of time."
Granderson's winning fly ball came in just the nick of time for the Mets, who used their entire bench and were down to one reliever in the bullpen (right-hander Jeurys Familia).
Center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis led off the 14th by drawing a walk off Braves right-hander Gus Schlosser, who was beginning his fourth inning. Shortstop Ruben Tejada bunted Nieuwenhuis to second before Schlosser intentionally walked left fielder Eric Young.
Schlosser's first pitch to Granderson sailed past catcher Evan Gattis and allowed Nieuwenhuis and Young to each advance a base. Granderson hit the next pitch to deep left field and Nieuwenhuis easily beat the throw home from Justin Upton.
"I'm hoping we get a chance to win, I'm hoping I have something to bring to it, hopefully have a chance if an opportunity presents itself," Granderson said.
Granderson pumped his fist just before he was engulfed by teammates who were as happy for him as they were to escape with a win and get to dinner before sunset on Easter Sunday.
"It's Easter, supposed to be an early game, it's 6 o'clock and we're still here," Recker said with a laugh. "Very happy for him and very excited to get the win."
Six Mets relievers combined for eight innings of shutout ball, Right-hander Jose Valverde, who lost his closer's job earlier in the day, earned the win after working around a single in the 14th. He was preceded by right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was pitching for the second straight day for the first time as a major leaguer but struck out five over three hitless innings.
Third baseman David Wright had an RBI groundout in the first before singling in each of his next four at-bats as the Mets (9-9) avoided being swept by the Braves.
"We needed the win," Collins said. "We're 9-9, we'll take it right now It's where we are and we'll build on it."
Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler allowed three runs on six hits and three walks while striking out six over six innings. He also had an RBI in the second inning.
Right fielder Jason Heyward was 3-for-6 with a run scored for the Braves (12-6), who lost for the second time in their last 10 games. Center fielder B.J. Upton and first baseman Freddie Freeman each had an RBI double.
"You play that long, you want to win, obviously," said Justin Upton, who was stranded at third after tripling with two outs in the 10th. "Something had to give and it gave their way. Nothing you can do about it."
Right-hander David Hale gave up three runs (two earned) on six hits while walking two and striking out five over six innings.
NOTES: Mets manager Terry Collins announced before the game that RHP Kyle Farnsworth would be the Mets' new closer. RHP Jose Valverde, who took over the job when RHP Bobby Parnell suffered a season-ending elbow injury on Opening Day, allowed eight runs (five earned) in his three appearances prior to Sunday. Farnsworth threw a scoreless 10th on Sunday. ... The extra innings featured at least two unexpected sights. Braves RHP Gus Schlosser singled in his first career at-bat in the 14th inning while lead-footed Mets 1B Lucas Duda stole a base in the bottom of the 13th -- his third steal in 367 career games. ... Braves LHP Mike Minor, who is on the disabled list with shoulder stiffness, is expected to make his first start of the season Friday, when Atlanta opens a three-game series against Cincinnati. ... Braves RHP Gavin Floyd, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, is expected to need at least two more rehab starts before joining the Atlanta rotation. Floyd has yet to pitch five full innings in any of his four rehab starts.