A second straight win, a wish fulfilled, a team that looks to be discovering itself again.
All of those things were on display at Citi Field on Friday night. The Mets took care of the Pirates 4-3 after knocking them around on Thursday. They answered their fans’ pleas for good, normal baseball after getting surprisingly swept by the Cubs earlier in the week and they did many of the things that made them so hard to beat all season.
The Mets got at least seven innings from Taijuan Walker for his second consecutive start. Amid a troubling second half (which was something that Walker dealt with in 2021 as well), many wondered if games against the Marlins and Pirates would straighten him out. With 10 strikeouts over his seven innings in Miami, then two earned runs in his 7.1 against the Pirates, Walker has answered that question.
In his last two times out, Walker has looked much more like the reputable pitcher he was in the season’s early going than the one who posted 7.03 ERA in his six previous starts. He had a great curveball on Friday and used it to exploit the Pirates, who have the National League’s worst offense by wRC+.
“Just changing up the program,” Walker said of his pitch mix, which has included much fewer splitters recently. “They were being aggressive, had a lot of lefties in there. If we just keep the ball off the barrel, we get weak contact. That’s what we did today.”
His last pitch of the night put the Mets’ backs up against the wall, though. Pittsburgh’s gargantuan shortstop Oneil Cruz summoned all of his strength to hit a dead center field home run, bringing the Pirates within one run in the eighth inning and ending Walker’s night.
Walker’s counterpart, Pittsburgh righty Mitch Keller, wasn’t bad by any means. There are definitely some moments from this game that he would like back, though. After retiring his first seven hitters, Keller walked Eduardo Escobar in the bottom of the third inning. Buck Showalter then called for a hit and run with Tomas Nido at the plate, one of the team’s best players at handling the bat. Nido mostly used that skill for sacrifice bunts — he had 12 of them entering play on Friday, one more than Arizona’s Geraldo Perdomo for the MLB lead — but in this spot he got to execute a different old school play.
Escobar ran on an 0-1 sinker and even though the pitch was up and inside, Nido did an exemplary job of staying inside the ball and hitting it to the opposite field. It’d be hard to draw up a better hit and run, especially with Escobar’s above-average speed. The man who led the major leagues in triples in 2019 is still fairly fleet of foot and he scored on Nido’s jam shot to give the Mets an early lead. While the pitch was located well and he got no help from his defense on the play, Keller will regret that walk to Escobar that let the whole thing play out.
“That was more of a run and hit,” Buck Showalter revealed after the game. “There’s a big difference. Scoring from first on that is not easy. We tell runners all the time in spring: run and make them stop you. You see a lot of guys take those baby steps. Our guys don’t do that.”
Keller’s only other real mistake was leaving a ball up and over the plate to Daniel Vogelbach. The mercurial designated hitter knew exactly what to do with it, driving it to left-center field for a solo home run that traveled 399 feet at 102.5 miles per hour.
The home run was Vogelbach’s first against his former team, who kept him in the yard while the Mets were at PNC Park. On defense, the Mets got a sensational play that might have helped keep the Pirates in the yard. Making just his fifth start of the season in right field, Jeff McNeil sized up a Cruz fly ball in the fifth inning that looked like it grew wings.
As the ball kept going and going, so did McNeil, who eventually ran out of room and had to make a jump for it. When he landed back on the warning track, McNeil immediately raised his glove to signal that he had made the best outfield catch of his career. It’s hard to say whether the ball would have cleared the wall or hit the top of it, but either way, McNeil added another feather to his versatile cap.
“Playing right is a little bit different,” McNeil admitted. “That’s kind of where balls go to die right there. I’ve hit some out there that just go nowhere. I knew when he hit that, it was in that little triangle, and I could have a play on it.”
The final score — which was fastened into place by Edwin Diaz’s five-out save — may have been a little snug for the Mets’ liking. But wins are wins at this point of the year and even with the tight margin, the Mets did many things well. They got good starting pitching, timely, well-executed hits and even stole three bases.
Your 2022 New York Mets now have 91 wins for the first time since 2006, a year where they fell one win shy of a World Series berth.