Fresh off completing a series sweep of the defending champion San Francisco Giants on Wednesday, the Mets took the field in Steel City this evening to begin a three game weekend set against the revived Pittsburgh Pirates baseball club. Sporting a 5-1 record on this road trip, and winners of four in a row, the Mets (40-48) looked to keep their momentum going with Jeremy Hefner on the mound. Pittsburgh, the National League’s third best team with a 54-36 record, countered with right-handed pitcher Charlie Morton.
Eric Young looked at a strike to start the game, then slapped Morton’s second pitch back up the middle for a lead-off single. After Daniel Murphy popped out to shallow left, Young was cut down attempting to steal second. David Wright then stepped in and was serenaded to a chorus of boos and jeers. In his role as Home Run Derby N.L. Team Captain, Wright did not initially select Pittsburgh’s third baseman Pedro Alvarez to participate, despite his twenty-three home runs entering the game. Alvarez was later named to the squad Thursday, replacing Carlos Gonzalez of the Colorado Rockies. But as expected, Pirates fans made their displeasure with David Wright known with their first opportunity, and continued throughout the game. To the crowd’s delight, David flied harmlessly to center, ending the Mets first turn at-bat.
Out came Jeremy Hefner for his eighteenth start of the season. After retiring lead-off hitter Starling Marte, right fielder Jose Tabata reached safely on a grounder to the left side which David Wright was perhaps better off leaving for shortstop Omar Quintanilla to field. Then up came Pittsburgh’s guy – slugger Pedro Alvarez, who sized-up Jeremy Hefner’s first offering, a low fastball, and deposited it behind the center field fence for a two run home run - his twenty-fourth dinger of the season.
David Wright came to the plate for a second time in the fourth, and received another round of Steel City cheers. But this time, Wright smacked a double to deep left/center to temporarily mute the home crowd. Otherwise, both Charlie Morton and Jeremy Hefner settled into a duel through five full innings. Morton held the Mets to three scattered hits. Meanwhile, after Alvarez’ home run, Jeremy Hefner proceeded to retire the next thirteen batters he faced.
In his third at-bat in the sixth, Eric Young sliced a ball down the third base line which he hustled into a one-out double against the arm of left fielder Starling Marte. Next batter Daniel Murphy worked a full count against Morton before bouncing to second base, and moving Young to third. Up came David Wright again to yet another chorus of boos. But the Mets third baseman promptly answered on Morton’s first offering, dropping a single to right field, scoring Young from third to make it a 2-1 game.
With one out in the home sixth, Starling Marte struck Pittsburgh’s first base hit off Hefner since the first inning, a double to left. The next batter, Jose Tabata hit a come-backer to Jeremy, who played the lead runner, Marte into a rundown. Hefner then retired Andrew McCutchen for a third consecutive time.
In the top of the seventh inning, center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis struck a meaty fastball served up by Charlie Morton, which cleared the right field wall for a game tying home run. Jeremy Hefner returned to the hill for the bottom of the seventh, and retired slugger Pedro Alvarez on one pitch. He then struck out catcher Russell Martin, and induced a harmless fly to right out of first baseman Garrett Jones.
The Pirates turned to their bullpen for the eighth, as starter Charlie Morton’s night ended while only earning a hard-luck no decision for his efforts. Buc’s closer Mark Melancon entered the game to face pinch-hitter Jordany Valdespin - batting, surprisingly, for pitcher Jeremy Hefner. The plan back-fired, as Valdespin struck out. Mark Melanson also struck out Eric Young for out number two. Daniel Murphy finally connected for his first hit of the game, slapping a two out single the other way, and thus bringing up crowd favorite David Wright. However, a bloop served to right field was secured by Tabata for the third out.
First in from the Mets bullpen was David Aardsma, who in the bottom of the eighth, retired the Bucs in order.
Into the ninth they went. Reliever Jason Grilli retired the Mets in the top of the frame. David Aardsma returned to the hill for a second inning of work, and quickly surrendered a lead-off double to left fielder Starling Marte. Tabata successfully sacrificed him over to third. And after an intentional walk to Andrew McCutchen, out came Terry Collins to remove David Aardsma in favor of lefty Scott Rice to face lefty Pedro Alvarez. The move paid off as Rice converted on a huge strikeout. With two outs and the winning run on third base, Terry Collins then elected to have Greg Burke face Russell Martin. But Martin drew a walk, which instigated a double-switch from Coach Terry, with Juan Lagares and Josh Edgin entering the game. With the bases now loaded, Edgin fell behind in the count to pinch hitter Gabby Sanchez, but induced a ground ball to first, sending this game into extra innings.
The Mets faced Pirates reliever Tony Watson in the tenth. Juan Lagares stroked a one-out single to the opposite field in right, bringing up Eric Young. A fielder’s choice at second base swapped base runners for Daniel Murphy, who exploited a huge hole on the left side of the infield for a base hit. Bucs Manager Clint Hurdle then continued his bullpen maneuverings, bringing in Bryan Morris to relieve Watson. Public Enemy Number One – David Wright stepped in with Eric Young on second base and Murphy on first, and worked the count full. On the pay-off pitch, Wright lined a pea to center field, but was caught by Andrew McCutchen.
In the home tenth, the Bucs continued to face Josh Edgin. Shortstop Clint Barmes reached on a one out single to right. Next, pinch-hitter Josh Harrison worked a full count before bouncing 6 to 3, and moving the winning run into scoring position with two outs. Starling Marte was intentionally walked in favor of Edgin facing Jose Tabata. After falling behind 3-0 with Andrew McCutchen on deck, Josh Edgin came back to run a full count on Tabata, and induced a ground ball to Quintanilla to end the threat.
In the eleventh, Vin Mazzaro became Pittsburgh’s sixth pitcher of the evening, and retired the Mets in order. In the bottom of the frame, Mets young reliever Gonzalez Germen entered his first major league baseball game, and quickly issued a lead-off walk to Andrew McCutchen. Pedro Alvarez was Germen’s next big problem to figure. The Bucs third baseman struck out, but McCutchen stole second base to put himself in scoring position. After Russell Martin was intentionally walked, Gaby Sanchez stepped in against Gonzalez Germen with one out. After falling behind 3-0 in the count, the Mets reliever regrouped and struck out Sanchez for a huge second out. But ultimately, it was a meekly struck fourteen hopper up the middle by second baseman Jordy Mercer that ruined an otherwise entertaining ball game for Mets fans. Andrew McCutchen crossed the plate with the winning run.
The Bucs defeated the Mets by a 3-2 final in Game One of this weekend series. Gonzalez Germen suffered his first major league loss. Welcome to the big leagues. Vin Mazzaro gets credit for the win in relief.
* David Wright extended his hitting streak to twelve straight games.
* Jeremy Hefner entered tonight’s game with a 1.64 ERA over his last seven starts – tops in baseball. He won his previous two decisions, pitching seven innings in each game. He pitched seven again tonight. Although Terry Collins decision to pinch-hit for Hefner was questionable, the Mets starter regardless pitched seven full innings, allowing two earned runs on just three hits. He walked no batters and struck out three to earn his own hard-luck no-decision.
* Entering tonight, Eric Young’s .360 OBP looked handsome against a .290 batting average in ninety-three at-bats. He had seven doubles, drew twelve walks and stole seven bases, while driving in ten runs as the lead-off hitter. Tonight, he was 2 for 5 with a double, and made a sweet defensive play in the second inning.
* Mets entered the series with a 23-21 road record. Even with tonight’s loss, they are still a game above the .500 mark. If only they played better at home…..
* All things considered, great pitching performances by everyone. They made many very key individual pitches this evening.
* David Wright perhaps should have left a first inning grounder to the left side struck by Tabata, alone. He got away with another shaky play.
* Murphy and Marlon Byrd needed to communicate better on a floater to short right field in the tenth inning. Disaster narrowly avoided.
* Losing in eleven innings. Bad break for Gonzalez Germen. I think many of us watching at home knew we were watching the eleventh inning unravel, or was that just me?
* Four game win streak ends.
* First the literal version: The Mets played in their twelfth extra-inning game this season. They now have a 5-7 record playing free-baseball.
* Now the extra stuff: The SNY-Boys expressed “shock!” over Terry Collins’ decision to pinch hit for Jeremy Hefner in the top of the eighth inning, after only throwing seventy-eight pitches in a tie game. I wasn’t shocked over the decision, but I did shake my head somewhat. I feel Jeremy Hefner deserved to start the eighth inning. His economy of pitches was on point and his breaking ball was working very well this evening.
* After the game, Ron Darling was dumping in Jordany Valdespin – saying he may have outlived his welcome. I couldn’t agree more.