PITTSBURGH – Edwin Diaz drilled the first dough he faced the first pitch he threw Saturday night – and soon the Mets’ worst nightmare erupted.
The two-run lead that Diaz had been given was not safe, just as a significant advantage an inning had previously become weak in Seth Lugo’s hands.
This one ended with Kevin Pillar lunging into the left field stand and desperately trying to pick up Jacob Stallings’ falling fly ball, but to no avail. Stallings’ walk-off grand slam sent the Mets to a stunning 9-7 loss to the Pirates at PNC Park.
“I could not believe it when it cleared the fence,” said Diaz, pointing to the sky as the ball left the bat. “I thought it was a flying ball.”
The Mets, leading 6-0 in the eighth inning largely on the strength of a pair of two-run home runs by JD Davis, lost their third stretch and dropped to 2-4 against the Pirates’ last-place finish.
Wilmer Difo’s three-run homer against Lugo led the Pirates’ comeback in a five-run eighth. But Diaz, who first struck a save against the Pirates last Sunday at Citi Field, had a two-run cushion as he took the mound in the ninth after Brandon Nimmo’s solo homer at the top of the inning.
“It’s hard when you don’t have your day to win the game,” Diaz said. “Two of them [last] three losses were with me and I just have to stay positive. “Tomorrow is a new day.”
Ke’Bryan Hayes was hit by a pitch to start the winning rally and Bryan Reynolds walked. After coming out, Diaz handed a single to John Nogowski from Jonathan Villar’s glove, who loaded the bases. Gregory Polanco struck out and put Diaz inside one out of the rescue before Stallings finished it.
“[Diaz’s] the shooter was not the good shooter tonight, he backed up and the fastball command was scattered, ”said manager Luis Rojas.
The loss came hours after the Mets placed Francisco Lindor on the 10-day injury list with a strained right incline. Rojas noted that Lindor is among the players who have a calming effect on Diaz in tough times and that the presence may have been missed.
“Francisco is a guy who gives him a lot of confidence,” Rojas said. “Francisco visits some pile and pumps him up and they have a really good relationship.”
Rojas defended his decision to stick to Lugo in the eighth to face Difo, after the Pirates had already scored twice against the reliever. He said Lugo “was” in inning, and his number of counters was at 20. Rojas said he liked the match, noting that Lugo has been used in some of the Mets’ highest leverage points in recent weeks.
Lugo, who went two and allowed three hits, never escaped inning when Aaron Loup came in to get the final out.
“We have a lot of baseball left and a loss does not define the team,” said Lugo.
Davis belted out a two-run homer in the fourth and another in the sixth, giving rookie Tylor Megill race support in his most impressive performance since joining the Mets. The right-hander fired six shutout innings, allowing six hits and knocking out two, dropping his ERA to 2.63.
Travis Blankenhorn, who was recalled from Triple-A Syracuse before the match to take Lindor’s roster spot, ran in a race with a pinch-double in the seventh. Jeff McNeil contributed an RBI single in the inning.
JD Davis’ first explosion of the night came after three futile innings where base driving and doubles were a problem. In the first, Nimmo retired late to first base on McNeil’s flight to center and was doubled to finish the lap. Dominic Smith grounded in a double play in the second and Pete Alonso hit into one in the third.
McNeil went on to open the fourth, and Davis crushed Wil Crowe’s next pitch over the center-field fence to the Mets’ first homer in 20 innings. The Mets had blasted two in the first inning of the final game before the All-Star break, but then remained silent the rest of the game, scoring their only run Friday on an away field.