PITTSBURGH - Mets righthander Jeremy Hefner made his only mistake Friday night in the first inning, when he threw a 90-mph fastball that Pirates slugger Pedro Alvarez blasted for a two-run home run.
From there, Hefner retired the next 14 batters and 19 of his last 20, which is why he was surprised to be lifted for a pinch hitter with the score tied in the eighth.
"When the eighth inning came around, you've got to decide," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "Do we try to win this game or do we keep playing for a tie?"
Instead, Collins' bullpen management led to a 3-2 loss to the Pirates in 11 innings.
Rookie Gonzalez Germen, pitching in his first major-league game, allowed Jordy Mercer's RBI single up the middle to bring in the winning run. But it was Collins' decision to pull Hefner after he allowed just two runs and threw only 78 pitches in seven innings that helped the Pirates end the Mets' four-game winning streak.
With the score tied, Collins said he used pinch hitter Jordany Valdespin, hoping that with one swing he might put the Mets ahead. Instead, Valdespin inexplicably attempted bunting his way on to lead off the eighth before striking out.
After that, Collins leaned on a bullpen already missing LaTroy Hawkins, who complained of right triceps soreness when he attempted to warm up earlier in the day.
Starling Marte doubled to lead off the ninth against Mets righthander David Aardsma. After Jose Tabata's sacrifice bunt moved Marte to third base, Collins called for the intentional walk of Andrew McCutchen. Lefty specialist Scott Rice fanned Alvarez with the runner on third before submariner Greg Burke walked Russell Martin to load the bases. Josh Edgin got pinch hitter Gaby Sanchez to ground out to end the threat, but the Mets used four different relievers to pitch in the ninth.
"I certainly didn't want to use four guys in that one inning," Collins said. "But in order to get out of it, that's what we had to do."
Since Collins wanted to hold out Bobby Parnell for a save situation, that left Germen to take the mound in the 11th, with the game on the line. The 25-year-old's debut ended when Mercer poked a pitch through the infield. "The inning got complicated," Germen said through a translator.
It was a rough ending for the Mets, who had clawed back from the 2-0 deficit.
In the sixth, David Wright cut the deficit to 2-1 with a two-out RBI single to rightfield off starter Charlie Morton. The hit knocked in Eric Young Jr., who had doubled with one out. In the seventh, Mets centerfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis hit a one-out solo home run to right-centerfield off Morton to even the score.
Morton was pulled after holding the Mets to just two runs through seven innings, though his departure was understandable since he had thrown 93 pitches. Collins' decision to pull Hefner appeared baffling as the righthander appeared to be cruising.
Nevertheless, in his final start before the All-Star break, Hefner lowered his ERA to 3.33.
Hefner delivered his 13th quality start of the season, second most on the Mets to Matt Harvey's 15. And for the eighth consecutive start, he surrendered two earned runs or fewer, the longest Mets streak since Johan Santana had a string of 13 such starts, spanning the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
"It is what it is," Hefner said. "Terry made a call and I completely support it."