ATLANTA -- The youngest of the Mets' three pitchers on Tuesday climbed atop the mound in the ninth inning, preparing to finish what Bartolo Colon started. Jose Valverde was no kid himself, having celebrated his 36th birthday last month. But compared to the others …
"I'm the youngest?!" Valverde said, his eyes growing wide. "Hooo-ly cow."
Age, of course, is but a number. And so on a night when the Braves celebrated the 40th anniversary of Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's home run record, Colon -- one of only four active big leaguers who was actually alive when Aaron hit No. 715 -- combined with 30-somethings Valverde and Kyle Farnsworth to blank the Braves, 4-0.
They may as well have held this one at a local bingo hall. As it was, Turner Field was notably more raucous, thanks to the sellout crowd of 47,144 which stopped by for Aaron's ceremony and the Braves' home opener.
Many were gone by the time Valverde took the mound with a four-run lead in the ninth (no word on whether pitching coach Dan Warthen used a rotary phone to call down to the bullpen), but the thousands remaining made plenty of noise as he loaded the bases on two hits and an error. Subbing for the much younger Bobby Parnell, who underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery in the morning, Valverde induced a popup from pinch-hitter Gerald Laird and a game-ending flyout to the warning track from Jason Heyward, who is 12 years his junior.
"It was a big fly, but this is a big stadium," Valverde said of Turner Field, only the 14th-oldest park in the Majors. "I have a good center fielder there, [Juan] Lagares, who I know can catch everything."
"That's the way the game goes," Heyward said. "It doesn't matter what you do in your first few -- mentally, you've got to be ready to come through in that next at-bat. You've got to put the other stuff behind you. You always want to be in that spot. We did a great job of fighting to get in that situation."
Farnsworth's inning as the setup man was noticeably easier, as the 37-year-old breezed through the heart of Atlanta's order in the eighth. That put things in the well-worn hands of Valverde, who did just enough to save his 288th career game.
"The ninth inning's a tough inning to pitch," said 64-year-old Terry Collins, the oldest manager in baseball. "You find that guy that doesn't get all worked up when things are going rough, and he's done that."
Collins could have been talking about any of the three elder statesmen on his staff, considering how well they all pitched. Colon was Exhibit A, dialing his fastball into the low 90s while striking out the first two batters he faced and five in total. Though he enjoyed just one 1-2-3 inning all night, Colon did not walk a batter, and did not allow more than one baserunner in each of his first six innings.
It was not until the seventh, seemingly, that he even had to sweat. Sitting on a three-run lead, Colon recorded a pair of easy outs before giving up a well-struck single to Andrelton Simmons and an infield hit to Ryan Doumit. That brought many of Turner Field's fans to their feet, until Heyward grounded out to end the inning.
"I felt great," Colon said through an interpreter. "Especially when you face a team as tough as Atlanta, you prepare to be very tough mentally, so that's how I felt today. I prepared very, very well for this game."
The Mets took an early lead off former teammate Aaron Harang -- who, at age 35, might not be out of place at the bingo game -- thanks to two walks and a wild pitch in the third. Harang was otherwise stout, striking out nine Mets in six innings and allowing only two hits.
But as soon as Harang departed, the Mets found offensive life. Consecutive hits from Travis d'Arnaud -- who singled earlier in the game to snap a season-opening 0-for-16 skid -- and Ruben Tejada led to one run in the seventh, before Eric Young plated another with an RBI single. An inning later, the Mets parlayed their second successful replay challenge of the season into additional insurance, when Tejada singled home Lucas Duda with two outs.
That gave Farnsworth and Valverde -- the young guys, relatively speaking -- a four-run cushion.
"It worked good," Collins said. "They all did a nice job."