(The Sports Xchange) - Yoenis Cespedes was hitless in the series opener against the Atlanta Braves on Thursday but the center fielder was soon hearing "MVP" chants from New York Mets fans a day later.
Cespedes was 3-for-5 with three RBIs and his mammoth two-run homer in the ninth inning capped a 5-1 victory that gave the Mets an 8 1/2-game lead in the National League East with 21 games to play.
"I think he's enjoying this as much as everyone else is," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "He's caught up in it. He came over and he's in a pennant race... I think it's catchy. We're seeing everything we've ever heard or read about a guy."
Cespedes, who has 33 homers and 100 RBIs overall, has homered in seven of his past 10 games and has 15 home runs and 39 RBIs in 38 games since being acquired by the Mets from the Boston Red Sox.
"He's just a great hitter," Collins said of the Cuban center fielder, who had previous spells at Oakland and Detroit.
"He uses his first at-bat to gauge what he's got to do. This is a new league. He sees what guys are doing and after that he's dangerous. He's got power to all parts of the park."
Cespedes' blast in the ninth, which traveled to the back of the lower seats in left field, came on 3-0 fastball from right-hander Arodys Vizcaino, who had walked right fielder Curtis Granderson to start the inning.
Granderson scored three times, and second baseman Daniel Murphy and left fielder Michael Conforto each had two hits.
The win also meant the Mets picked up a game in the standings when Washington lost 2-1 at Miami.
"I'll be happy when we're up by 8 1/2 games with eight games to play," said Collins, taking nothing for granted.
Rookie left-hander Steven Matz improved to 3-0 while lowering his ERA to 1.88, and the Mets (80-61) took advantage of blunders by the Braves (56-86) to score on a balk and a passed ball.
Braves rookie right-hander Matt Wisler, who lost his fifth straight to fall to 5-7, balked in a run in the fifth inning, and a passed ball by catcher Christian Bethancourt gave the Mets another gift score in the eighth.
Matz, who developed a blister in his previous start, was pulled for a pinch hitter after five innings and 89 pitches. He gave up six hits and two walks as the Braves stranded seven runners against him.
The pitcher's only blemish was a home run by rookie second baseman Daniel Castro, who connected for the first time in his 18th major league game.
Editing by John O'Brien