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Walker struggles, Rojas rages, Mets win

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Home runs from Blankenhorn and Conforto lift the Mets above a six-run hole in the first inning.

MLB: New York Mets at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The last two days have been some harrowing times for the Mets. They lost two games to the Pirates, including a heartbreaker last night. Their two biggest stars, Francisco Lindor and Jacob deGrom, have both hit the injured list. Some of their offensive stalwarts have been struggling to hit. But with their All-Star Taijuan Walker on the mound, they were going to turn the tide and win a game against one of the worst teams in the league, and prevent them from getting the sweep.

In the top of the first inning, the Mets had what looked to be some action in the making. Brandon Nimmo walked, Pete Alonso singled, and after a Jeff McNeil strikeout J.D. Davis was hit by a pitch from Brubaker. So the bases were loaded with only one out for Dom Smith and Michael Conforto. But Smith struck out and Conforto grounded out, leaving the bases loaded without a run crossing the plate and making for an inauspicious start to the game for the Mets.

In the bottom of the inning, Taijuan Walker got things started with a two pitch ground out from Adam Frazier, but Wilmer Difo came up to the plate and predictably got a double, adding to his resume of Met killing this season. Bryan Reynolds followed that with a single, driving in Difo and putting the Pirates on the board in the first. After Ben Gamel walked, noted irritant John Nogowski doubled, driving in both Reynolds and Gamel, and then advanced to third on an error. Gregory Polanco walked then stole second, putting two runners in scoring position with still only one out. Walker then walked Michael Perez, loading the bases with still one out. Then, in maybe the most bizarre play of the year thus far, Kevin Newman hit a ball off his foot that then rolled into foul territory, but when a stitch hit the foul line it was called in play, but because it swiped away before it was called fair three runners scored before the ball could be brought back into play. Luis Rojas was enraged by this sequence of events and specifically the umpires call, to the point that he was ejected by said umpires, putting bench coach (and Home Run Derby hero) Dave Jauss in the skipper’s seat for the rest of the game. After Brubaker walked, Walker was pulled in favor of Drew Smith, who got two quick outs and kept things from getting even worse (if that was even possible).

In the top of the second, Brubaker had a quick inning. Jonathan Villar struck out via foul tip, Tomas Nido flew out to Reynolds, and Drew Smith grounded out to Adam Frazier. In the bottom of the inning Drew Smith came back out to pitch. Other than a double from Ben Gamel, Smith got through the inning with no trouble, get a strike out, flyout, and ground out.

In the top of the third, Nimmo led off with a walk, his second of the game. After Alonso struck out, McNeil singled, putting runners at first and third with only one out. Davis struck out, putting the Mets in danger of once again doing nothing with runners on. But Dom Smith hit a single right up the line, driving in Nimmo and preventing the Mets from being shut out. In the bottom of the inning Drew Smith was back on the mound and once again looked good. He got Perez to strike out, Newman to fly out to Conforto, and Brubaker to ground out to Villar.

In the top of the fourth, the Mets immediately got things cooking with singles from both Villar and Nido. Travis Blankenhorn was brought in to pinch hit for Drew Smith, and immediately hit a first pitch home run that ended up in the Allegheny River (the first home run of Blankenhorn’s career). Brandon Nimmo followed that up with his third walk of the game, bringing Alonso to the plate with one runner on, no outs, and the Mets only down by two. Alonso hit a tailor-made double play ball, but Brubaker deflected it off his glove instead of catching it, causing Nimmo to get to second safely and only getting the out at first.McNeil hit a floater to Newman, with Nimmo standing pat at second. Brubaker got pulled before he could face Davis, being replaced by Chris Stratton. Davis drew a walk, but Dom Smith flew out to left field, ending the inning. In the bottom of the inning, Miguel Castro was brought in to pitch, and he had as good of an inning as he’s had in the last month or so, a nine pitch perfect inning, getting Frazier to pop out, Difo to ground out, and Reynolds to fly out.

In the top of the fifth, Conforto walked and Nido singled, with a Villar fly out in the middle. So with two runners on and one out, Luis Guillorme (brought in to pinch hit for Miguel Castro) lined out to Polanco, leaving the runners where they were for Brandon Nimmo to try and make something happen. Unfortunately, he struck out, leaving the runners on base without a single run crossing the plate. In the bottom of the inning Aaron Loup was brought in to pitch, and other than a lead off infield single by Gamel that was only a hit after Villar bobbled the ball, Loup got out of the inning with no harm done. He got Nogowski to line out to Dom Smith, and Polanco to ground into a double play to erase Gamel from the base path and end the inning.

In the top of the sixth, Alonso led things off with a fly out. Jeff McNeil followed that up with a walk. J.D. Davis then flew out, after which the Pirates switched pitchers to left handed reliever Austin Davis. Some may say that it was a dumb move to bring ina lefty against Dom Smith, as he has reverse splits this years and has been dominating left handed pitching. And those people would be right, as he immediately laced a single into right field, which drove in McNeil from first thanks to a bobble on the relay. Conforto then struck out, but the inning ended with the Mets within a run. Loup came back out for the bottom of the sixth, and he got himself into a fair bit of trouble. He gave up two singles to Perez and Newman, then hit former Met Phillip Evans after being ahead in the count. He struck out the ever-dangerous Adam Frazier to get the first out, then froze Wilmer Difo on a painted strike in the corner to get another strikeout and the second out of the inning. Loup then struck out Bryan Reynolds to escape the bases loaded, no out jam completely unscathed.

For the top of the seventh the Pirates brought out Clay Holmes to pitch. And pitch he did. He retired the side in order on six pitches, getting Villar and Nido to ground out and Pillar (pinch-hitting for Loup) to strike out on three pitches (the last strike being a check swing). In the bottom of the inning the Mets had Jeurys Familia come in to pitch. Familia on his first pitch induced a ground out from Ben Gamel. He ended up only needing nine more pitches to get out of the inning, including a double from Polanco. Familia got Nogowski to ground out and Perez to strike out swinging, keeping the Mets within a run heading into their penultimate inning at the plate.

The Pirates had David Bednar pitch in the top of the eight, and he started things out with a strikeout of Nimmo. Alonso hit a tapper up the third base line and was safe at first without a throw. But a McNeil line out and a J.D. Davis strikeout stranded Alonso at first with the Mets still down by one. In the bottom of the inning Familia had to work around a bit of trouble. After getting two outs from Newman and pinch-hitter Ke’Bryan Hayes, Frazier and Difo both got singles, putting two guys on with Reynolds stepping up to the plate. But Familia was able to get Reynolds to line out on the first pitch and keep the game within arm’s reach.

In the top of the ninth Dom Smith worked a full count from Pirates closer Richard Rodriguez before hitting a single to right field. Then Michael Conforto stepped up to the plate, struggling since he came back from the injured list. But he got his pitch and hit a two run, go-ahead home run. Villar, Nido, and pinch-hitter Jose Peraza all got out, but all the Mets needed to do was get three outs and they were golden. Because Lugo and Diaz were so taxed last night, Jauss had to go to Trevor May to get the job done. After issuing a walk to Ben Gamel, he shut the rest of the inning down, getting Nogowski to fly out, Stallings to strike out, and Perez to ground out, ending the game and preventing the Pirates from getting their first series sweep of the year.

The Mets turned the momentum and won their first game after the All-Star Break, and it was sorely needed. The Mets head to Cincinnati next for a three game series, before they come home on Friday. Hopefully they will turn on the jets and start putting space between themselves and the rest of the division, and start really preparing for a playoff run.

*illar of the game

Neither. Kevin Pillar went 0-1 in his only plate appearance of the game, and Villar went 1-5 with no notable offensive contribution with that one hit, so no *illar is worthy of the crown today.

Box scores

MLB.com
ESPN

Win Probability Added

Fangraphs

What’s WPA?

Big Mets winner: Michael Conforto, +46.8% WPA
Big Mets loser: Taijuan Walker, -40.2% WPA
Mets pitchers: +1.0% WPA
Mets hitters: +49.0% WPA
Teh aw3s0mest play: Michael Conforto’s go-ahead two-run home run in the ninth, +56.7% WPA
Teh sux0rest play: John Nogowski’s two-run double in the first inning, -15.9% WPA

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