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Second half starts off shaky for the Mets in Pittsburgh

The start of the 2nd half of the season wasn’t very graceful for the New York Mets, who finished the last three of seven straight games against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Mets went into the All-Star Break after splitting four games at Citi Field, a disappointing result against one of the league’s bottom dwellers.
Friday’s series opener in Pittsburgh got chippy in the 5th inning after Marcus Stroman got Pittsburgh’s John Nogowski to line out to end the inning and strand a runner on 3rd. Stroman’s celebration irked Nogowski, resulting in a shoving match and the benches emptying.
The Mets were unable to get their offense going after that, with their one run in the 4th inning the only one they scored on Friday. Pittsburgh picked up a pair of insurance runs to take the first game 4-1. Injury problems also continued to rip apart the Mets roster, and just as JD Davis returned to the lineup, both Francisco Lindor and Jacob deGrom were placed on the injured list.
As they had through plenty of the 1st half, the Mets turned to their bench to fill the holes and keep them afloat. JD Davis made an almost instant impact, hitting a pair of 2-run homers to put the Mets up in Saturday’s game. A few hits in the 7th made it 6-0 to the Mets, who seemed to be firmly in control.
Seth Lugo and Edwin Diaz struggled in relief, as Lugo surrendered two runs before giving up a 3-run homer. Diaz quickly got in trouble in the 9th as a hit-by-pitch, walk, and infield single loaded the bases for Pittsburgh. With two outs Jacob Stallings drove the ball to deep left, a walk-off grand slam for a 9-7 Pittsburgh win.
All-Star Taijaun Walker looked to right the ship on Sunday, but things quickly got worse. Walker got in trouble early, giving up three runs before walking two to load the bases. A swinging bunt hugged the 3rd base line seemingly in foul territory. With no play for an out, Walker went to swipe the ball away from the play before it rolled fair. The umpire ruled the ball fair and three more Pirates scored in the chaos for a 6-run 1st inning.
Manager Luis Rojas came storming out of the dugout, bumping into the umpire as he disputed the call. He was ejected from the game and later issued a 2-game suspension and undisclosed fine. Walker exited the game shortly after, pulled after recording just one out and giving up five earned runs.
This time the Mets bullpen and bats bailed out their starter. Drew Smith, Miguel Castro, Aaron Loup, Jeurrys Familia, and Trevor May combine for 8.2 scoreless innings. The Mets got on the board in the 3rd, but it was Travis Blankenhorn, brought in to replace the injured Lindor, who brought the Mets within striking distance as he sent a 3-run home run into the Allegheny River, his first MLB homer.
It was Michael Conforto who struck in the 9th, continuing a hot streak after returning to the lineup late last month. He hit a towering fly ball to center that carried out for a go-ahead 2-run homer. May picked up the save as the Mets avoided a sweep, but New York left Pittsburgh with a losing record against the Pirates this season.
New York looked to get it going in Cincinnati against the Reds, who fell 7.5 games behind the Brewers after a sweep by their NL Central rivals. Both teams got on the board instantly, with Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil going back to back for a 3-run first before Cincinnati capitalized on an error to take a 4-3 lead.
The Reds picked up another three after a comedy of errors continued to give away bases and runs. Luis Guillorme and Jeff McNeil, usually solid defensively, both committed brutal errors on double-play chances. Starting pitcher Jared Eickhoff was only charged with 2 of the 7 runs to score, leaving after 3.2 innings.
It was an absolute disaster, and even though 10 runs had been scored in the first two innings alone, it felt like the Mets had dug themselves an impossible hole to escape from. Once again, it was the bats and bullpen forced to make up for early mishaps.
Conforto hit another 2-run homer to make it a 7-5 ballgame in the 4th and Dom Smith tied the game up with one in the 5th. From that point on, the two would trade leads and jockey for control of the game, now up in the air.
Cincinnati took the lead in the 7th inning, but James McCann stepped up to pinch hit in the 8th inning and quickly became one of the more pivotal players in the game. He crushed the Mets’ 5th home run of the night to put them back in front 9-8, and Diaz took the mound hoping to avoid a third straight blown save.
Diaz walked the first batter he saw on four pitches but bounced back to strike out the next on three sliders. A groundout brought the Reds to their final out, but again Diaz couldn’t finish the job, coughing up the tying run on a double by Jesse Winker. It was the first time Diaz has blown three consecutive save opportunities, as he continues a back-and-forth year.
The game went to extras, and both teams cashed in their free baserunner in the 10th frame. A groundout brought up McCann, who singled home his third RBI off the bench. A pair of Cincinnati hits plated another tying run off of Anthony Banda in his Mets debut.
Banda was able to escape a jam and send the game into the 11th, and Jeff McNeil gave the Mets their fourth lead of the night with an RBI single. A huge 3-run homer from Jonathan Villar that split the game open and Conforto delivered for the 3rd time in two games, hitting his second homer of the night. The Mets went into the bottom of the 11th with a 15-10 lead, looking to finally close out the game.
Banda got the first out, but couldn’t stop the Reds from plating the free baserunner. He was replaced by Trevor May, who ended the game in eight pitches, putting the finishing touches on yet another incredible Mets comeback win.
New York’s lead in the NL East is slim and only getting smaller. Philadelphia is right on their tails, 10-4 in the month of July before they started a series against the Yankees. The Mets are going to need more big results to fend off the Phillies, and with the trade deadline looming, they’ll likely need to make some significant moves to land an additional pitcher and solid bat.

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