ST. LOUIS — The key to Mets’ 4-1 win against the Cardinals on Thursday sounded like a bad band name: Taijuan Walker and the walks.
In his best start yet with his new team, Walker allowed one hit in seven innings, withstanding rain, an error, underwhelming offensive support and rain again as the Mets salvaged a split of the four-game series.
The hitters, meanwhile, had a different strategy with runners in scoring position: Don’t swing. They drew 11 walks, including three with the bases loaded. The Mets left 17 runners on base.
A second win in a row for the Mets (13-13) also meant a winning record (4-3) on an eventful road trip that began with a benches-clearing episode in Philadelphia and included three players going on the injured list, a pair of dramatic wins against the Phillies, the Mets’ late-night firing of their hitting coaches, Jacob deGrom being scratched from his start but not going on the injured list, a brief ninth-inning power outage at Busch Stadium, a rainout with no rain and an official review of a mound visit.
"To go back home with a winning record is definitely satisfying," manager Luis Rojas said. "It’s going to be a happy flight for sure."
Walker was the standout. The only run he yielded was unearned because of Jonathan Villar’s throwing error in the second inning. He rebounded to retire the next 18 batters, including six straight after a 17-minute rain delay in the sixth inning.
"I didn’t know if I was going to go back out there after the rain delay," said Walker, who was initially told it would be a 30-minute stoppage, which might’ve required him to come out of the game. "I’m glad it was quick."
Walker’s eight strikeouts matched a season high and zero walks set a season low. In the opening inning, he struck out the side in order.
"It tells you that he’s feeling something good," catcher James McCann said. "The biggest thing for him was how well he attacked the strike zone. His pitch count was never high. He attacked from pitch No. 1 with all four pitches — fastball, curveball, slider, changeup — and he challenged their lineup."
In a rotation waiting on Noah Syndergaard (Tommy John surgery) and Carlos Carrasco (torn right hamstring), Walker has been a stabilizing presence.
The Mets have three pitchers among the top 20 in ERA in the majors. DeGrom is first at 0.51. Marcus Stroman ranks 10th with a 2.12 mark. And Walker is tied for 16th at 2.38.
Walker is ahead of the Dodgers’ Trevor Bauer, the Nationals’ Max Scherzer, the Phillies’ Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, and the Marlins’ Sandy Alcantara.
"He’s a guy you can’t sleep on," McCann said. "He should be in the talks of being that guy at the top of the rotation, the way he’s throwing the ball, the stuff that he has. It just shows the depth that we have in the rotation, the type of quality arms we have. It’s a special thing for sure."
Francisco Lindor added with a laugh: "They’re all right."
Against righthander John Gant — a former Mets minor-leaguer and Rojas pupil who was traded to the Braves in the 2015 deal for Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson — the Mets scored two runs (one earned) in 4 1/3 innings. Both runs scored on bases-loaded walks.
Lindor ended his 0-for-26 struggle with a single in the ninth inning, a hard ground ball through the right side of the infield. It was his first hit in nine days. He also walked three times.
"As soon as I hit the ball, I was just hoping that nobody caught it," said Lindor, who is batting .163 with a .504 OPS. "When it went through, of course there was a smile on my face and my shoulders came down. I had them above my ears. They came down a little bit."
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