There is virtually no way to look upon Marcus Stroman’s first half as anything but impressive.
The Mets righthander was an excellent No. 2 starter behind Jacob deGrom on a team that’s going into the All-Star break atop the NL East. The Patchogue-Medford product pitched 98 1/3 innings to a stunning 2.75 ERA. And he struck out 83 while issuing a meager 25 walks.
But this strong stint has ended with a downturn including a real clunker Saturday in Game 1 of the Mets doubleheader against the Pirates. Stroman gave up what would prove to be the game-winning run on a two-out solo homer by opposing pitcher Tyler Anderson in the fifth inning of what became a 6-2 loss to Pittsburgh before 31,924 at Citi Field.
The Mets managed to pull out a split with a 4-2 victory in Game 2, finished off by Edwin Diaz striking out the side in order for his 19th save.
Manager Luis Rojas called Diaz’ 10-pitch performance "the best outing I’ve seen him have as a Met."
The win included a two-run double from Jeff McNeil and Pete Alonso’s 17th home run.
In 10 doubleheaders thus far, the Mets have two sweeps and eight splits.
Anderson’s homer came against a 1-and-1 slider — what Stroman described as "as slider that didn’t slide" — and landed in the Mets’ bullpen in rightfield to snap a tie at 2.
"It’s surprising at the moment: the pitcher is probably their weakest hitter and . . . you don’t expect that to happen often," Rojas said. "Hey, the guy has a bat in his hand and he’s taking hacks. He ran into Stroman’s slider."
Stroman’s record fell to 6-7 despite putting up numbers that probably merited an invite to the All-Star Game. But his last three starts don’t make for a pretty trend. On Saturday he was charged with three earned runs over five innings. Over his last three starts, Stroman is 0-2 with a 5.54 ERA. He’s not logged a win since June 12.
"It’s a little random [and] a little workload," Stroman said. "My body felt a little off the last three or four starts. I think these next six or seven days off will be good for my body."
Nevertheless, Stroman said he was "super proud" of this first half because "I didn’t pitch at all last year and to come into this year and be almost at 100 innings before the break, that’s an [accomplishment] for me and it shows the work ethic that went into this offseason."
Lost in the defeat were Kevin Pillar’s first-inning RBI single for a 1-0 lead, Jonathan Villar’s fourth-inning homer that tied the game at 2 and a spectacular first-inning play by Brandon Nimmo in which he robbed the Pirates’ Bryan Reynolds of a certain home run.
Nimmo timed his leap perfectly and got his glove high over the height of the centerfield fence and brought the ball back for the third out. Nimmo came off the field doing leaping chest bumps with every Mets player he came near.
"He’s playing the best centerfield I have seen him play in his career" including during the minor leagues, Rojas said.
Stroman looked like he was heading for anything but an unsuccessful performance at the start. He was brilliant in his first trip through the Pittsburgh lineup. He retired the first nine he faced over the first three innings on just 29 pitches. His second time through Pittsburgh’s order was far more problematic.
In the fourth inning, he surrendered the Mets’ 1-0 lead after a pair of flare singles when John Nogowski’s drilled two-out rocket down the third base line to the leftfield corner for a two-run double. And in the fifth, after the Mets tied it on Villar’s homer, Stroman couldn’t keep it there.
He erased a leadoff single by inducing a Cole Tucker double play to bring up Anderson.
"It hung up and he put a good swing on it," Stroman said.
Relievers Trevor May and Drew Smith made a road to a comeback tough by allowing three runs over the sixth and seventh innings. May gave up a two-run homer to Reynolds in the sixth and Smith surrendered a run-scoring single with one out in the seventh.
McNeil had the two-run double in the first inning of the nightcap and Alonso’s homer in the third staked Tylor Megill to a 3-1 lead, but Jeurys Familia had to bail him out of a two-on, two-out jam in the fourth and was credited with the victory.
Megill, a rookie righthander, struck out seven in 3 2/3 innings and equaled the franchise record of 26 strikeouts in his first four starts held by Dwight Gooden, Matt Harvey and Dick Selma.
Seth Lugo allowed a run in two innings to get the game to Diaz.