PITTSBURGH — — The New York Mets built their lead in the NL East in part by feasting on those who also ran.
Come September, the too-rans are fighting back, and a division title that seemed almost a foregone conclusion for parts of the spring and summer now feels particularly dangerous with fall fast approaching.
Mitch Keller scattered five hits in six scoreless innings and the Pittsburgh Pirates sent the suddenly listless Mets to an 8-2 loss Tuesday night. New York failed to get a runner to third base against Keller (5-10) and dropped its third straight game against teams that played with the rope.
Manager Buck Showalter didn’t seem to mind that the first place his team had held only since April 12 was in jeopardy. The loss cut New York’s lead over Atlanta to a half-game with the Braves playing later Tuesday in Oakland.
“It’s about us trying to play better,” Showalter said.
It would be useful to rediscover some of the firepower that carried New York for long stretches.
The Mets managed just four runs during a streak that began with two losses to Washington at home over the weekend and continued on a dismal night at PNC Park against bottom-ranked Pittsburgh.
New York has scored more than three runs just three times in its last 13 games since Aug. 22, a streak that began when it was swept in a brief Subway series with the New York Yankees.
“(The drop) strikes you because they’ve been so good for so long, 100-something weird games,” Showalter said. “You always tip your cap to the opposition, but you know, guys are frustrated right now because they know they’re capable of getting better.”
New York, trying to avoid its first season since 1972 without a four-game losing streak. is in the midst of a final stretch that features only two series on teams in contention. Things have not gone according to plan during the early stages.
Taijuan Walker (10-4) pitched five innings as the Mets lost for the fifth time in his last six starts. Walker allowed four runs on six hits and two walks with three strikeouts while retiring the Pirates in order just once and dealing with a blister on the index finger of his right (throwing) hand that prompted Showalter to replace him in the sixth.
Brandon Nimmo hit a two-run homer in the seventh to cut New York’s deficit to two, but the Mets didn’t produce another runner until two outs in the ninth when the game was out of their reach.
New York is 46-21 against teams under-500 this season, the fourth-best winning percentage in the majors against clubs with losing records. That mark, however, was 46-18 just five days ago. The Mets are the first team since the 1938 Yankees to enter three straight games 35 games over .500 and lose all to teams 35 games under .500, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
“We’re a good team, we’ve been a good team all year,” said Walker, who indicated he doesn’t expect the blister to be a problem in the future. “We’ll get out of this funk and continue to play good baseball.”
THE PIRATES ESCAPE
Rodolfo Castro hit his sixth home run of the season, a two-run shot off the foul pole in right field in the third inning to put the Pirates up 3-0.
Rookie shortstop Oneil Cruz had three hits for Pittsburgh, including a 421-foot home run in the eighth that bounced off the Allegheny River.
Bryan Reynolds, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Kevin Newman and Jack Suwinski had two hits for Pittsburgh, which snapped a four-game losing streak by winning for the third time in its last 15 games.
The Mets put at least one runner on base in each of Keller’s first five innings, but they couldn’t capitalize. New York star Pete Alonso hit a pair of late-inning double plays to shut down threats and Keller worked out other trouble spots to record his first scoreless start in more than a year. Keller struck out two and walked two to earn his first home win since May 29, 2021 against Colorado, a span of 22 starts.
Right fielder Starling Marte left the game in the second inning shortly after being hit in the middle finger of his right (pitching) hand by a 96 mph fastball from Keller. Marte stayed to run after taking a hit, but was pulled when he had trouble catching a baseball.
The hit per pitch was the 89th the Mets have endured this year, the most in the majors and the third-highest total in club history.
Marte, who was replaced by Tyler Naquin, underwent scans on the injured hand, but both he and Showalter said it’s too early to determine the severity of the injury.
“I hope there isn’t a fracture there,” Marte said through a translator. “So we will wait and see and hope that I can recover quickly.”
Mets: RHP Max Scherzer is still being evaluated for what the team described as “left-side fatigue” he experienced over the weekend during a start against Washington. Manager Buck Showalter said the club will determine Wednesday whether Scherzer will make his next scheduled start, currently scheduled for Friday at Miami. There’s a chance the team could push Scherzer’s start back to Saturday or skip his turn in the rotation. … RHP Trevor May (COVID-19 IL) should return on Friday.
UNTIL NEXT TIME
The teams will hold a split doubleheader on Wednesday. New York will start Chris Bassitt (12-7, 3.35) in Game 1, with ace Jacob deGrom (4-1, 1.95) starting Game 2. Pittsburgh will counter with Bryse Wilson (2-8, 6.12) and Johan Oviedo. (2 -1, 2.86). The games are at 12:35 pm and 6:35 pm EDT.