By Howard Goldin
The Mets lost on Monday afternoon to the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-3, as Jose Valverde blew it late and was promptly released after the game.
Both the Mets and the Pirates entered the Memorial Day matinee mired in fourth place in their respective divisions and with identical 22-27 records.
The teams played most of the game as if they were evenly matched for the day. Neither team was able to get a runner across home plate during the first four innings even though both teams had men on base in each inning.
During the next four frames, each team managed to score twice in one inning. The Mets scored two in the bottom of the fifth. Starting pitcher Jacob deGrom hit safely for the second time in the contest with two out. He is the first Met pitcher in the club’s 53 year history to hit safely in his first three major league games. In fact, he is only the 11th Mets player, at any position, to get a hit in his first three games. "I guess I've been seeing the ball pretty well," deGrom said.
Juan Lagares followed with a walk and both deGrom and Lagares scored on a Daniel Murphy single to right. Lagares was originally called out by home plate umpire Laz Diaz, but Mets skipper Terry Collins challenged the call. The decision was overruled as a violation of collision rule 7.13, catcher Russell Martin was illegally blocking the plate. The review took 3 minutes and 48 seconds. Of the challenge rule, Collins remarked, “In the long run, this is going to work.” Pirates right fielder Josh Harrison was charged with a throwing error on the play.
The Mets rookie hurler deGrom made his third quality start, but has yet to get credit for a win. He could not have exceeded his effort on Monday afternoon. Although he allowed 10 men to reach base (5 hits, 5 runs) in the 6.2 innings he was on the mound, he did not let any cross the plate. His shutout performance lowered his ERA to 1.83. After the game, Collins opined, “He didn’t have his best stuff at the beginning of the game, but he was absolutely brilliant, great job.” deGrom said, "My job is to keep us in the ball games. I'm trying to do that every time. Wins will take care of themselves as long as I give them a chance. That's part of the game. Nobody's perfect out there."
No further runs were scored until the eighth inning when the Pirates rallied. Gaby Sanchez, pinch hitting for Ike Davis, led off the inning with his fifth home run of the season off Met southpaw Scott Rice. Obviously, Sanchez was the correct choice to bat against the Mets as he began the game with a .316 batting average against them, his highest average against any opposing club.
Sanchez said of Davis, "Ike's a good player and he's been swinging the bat really well. He's been one of the hottest bats on the team. So, he's going to play and I understand that. My role is to keep that going whenever I get my chance, keep that going and help the team win."
With two outs in the eighth, Jose Valverde came on to get a four-out save, and he gave up a double to Starling Marte, who was driven on a single from pinch hitter Jose Tabata.
The score did not remain knotted for long as the Bucs rallied in the ninth. With runners on first and second and one out, Sanchez struck again. He singled in one run, and a second run scored on a throwing error by Curtis Granderson. Sanchez was 2 for 2 with 2 runs batted in. Russell Martin hit a double over the head of Juan Lagares to score Sanchez and make it 5-2 Pirates.
All three runs were off Valverde in what would be his last appearance in a Mets uniform. Collins said of releasing Valverde, "Don't think for one second that there's not a guy in there that realizes that this is part of it. We just released one of the best professionals I have ever been around in Jose Valverde. You deal with it, and if you can't, you don't belong in the game."
A solo homer by Lucas Duda in the bottom of the ninth had no effect on the result.
The Mets are obviously looking forward for the month of June to begin. Their record this month has been 7-17. There are consequences for this lack of success that were announced by Mets general manager Sandy Alderson right after the game concluded, as Hitting Coach Dave Hudgens was fired, and will be replaced by Lamar Johnson.
David Wright said of the move, "When you struggle the way we've struggled offensively, the finger obviously gets pointed. A lot of times that finger gets pointed pretty unfairly. We, as players, are the ones not getting the job done."