PITTSBURGH — An absolute debacle of a weekend transformed into just a regular bad one when the Mets came back from a six-run deficit for a 7-6 win over the Pirates on Sunday.
Michael Conforto’s two-run home run off Pittsburgh closer Richard Rodriguez in the ninth inning proved to be the game-winner. That finished erasing the hole dug by Taijuan Walker in the first inning — including an embarrassing moment in which three runs scored on a grounder that didn’t make it halfway to third base — and saved the Mets from what would have been a series sweep.
Trevor May got the save to end an excellent day for the Mets’ bullpen a day after it blew a six-run lead, allowing nine runs in the final two innings. Five relievers combined for 8 2⁄3 scoreless innings.
The Mets (48-42) lost four of seven to the Pirates (36-57) in a pair of series bookending the All-Star break. They also put Francisco Lindor (right oblique strain) and Jacob deGrom (right forearm tightness) on the injured list on Saturday and Sunday.
"To me, what we saw today, that’s championship baseball," said lefthander Aaron Loup, who tossed two scoreless innings and escaped a bases-loaded, none-out jam of his own making in the sixth. "That’s what you do. When everything goes exactly as bad as it could go, you find a way to turn it around and win the ballgame."
Manager Luis Rojas said, "This is another good sign of how good of a team we are."
The Mets trailed for most of the game because of Walker’s ugly start. In one-third of an inning he gave up six runs and threw 35 pitches.
Highlighting that effort was a chaotic moment when Kevin Newman came up with the bases loaded and rolled a slow ground ball up the third-base line. Walker, thinking it was foul and wanting to keep it that way, batted it toward the home dugout. But plate umpire Jeremy Riggs correctly noted that the ball was on the chalk when Walker batted it and ruled it a fair ball.
Walker was so enraged that he stopped playing and began arguing with Riggs as the Pirates circled the bases. Catcher Tomas Nido stood there, trying to get Walker to refocus but not going to get the ball himself. Third baseman J.D. Davis was stunned — hands-on-his-head shocked. He had enough situational awareness to get out of the baseline to avoid interfering with the runners, but he also did not retrieve the ball, which had come to rest next to the on-deck circle.
Shortstop Jonathan Villar was sprinting toward the action when Walker eventually ran to pick up the ball. By then, three runners had scored.
"I thought I flipped it into the dugout," Walker said. "I didn’t even realize it was still in play."
Rojas emerged from the dugout in a frenzy. He directed his fury at — and made physical contact with — Riggs, who quickly ejected him, which made Rojas angrier. He was held back at various points by crew chief Larry Vanover, bench coach Dave Jauss, third-base coach Gary DiSarcina and first-base coach Tony Tarasco.
Saying he blacked out for parts of that sequence, Rojas said he wanted the umpires to convene and change the call. He thought it was a foul ball even after seeing replays. Walker seemed to think the same thing.
When they could laugh about it after the win, Rojas took some razzing from Mets players and personnel. "Yeah, a lot of them. A lot," he said. "There are some things that they said I did that I don’t remember doing. I was very hot at the moment. I was upset."
"He was fired up for sure," Walker said. "I think that got the whole team fired up, to see him have our backs out there. He’s usually cold-mannered."
The play was ruled an RBI single for Newman and an error on Walker, who faced one more batter, pitcher JT Brubaker, and walked him. Jauss brought in Drew Smith, who tossed 2 2⁄3 innings. That is when the Pirates stopped scoring and the Mets began to chip away.
Dominic Smith had an RBI single in the third. Pinch hitter Travis Blankenhorn hit his first major-league homer, a three-run shot in the fourth. Smith doubled with Jeff McNeil on base and two outs in the sixth, and McNeil came home on a throwing error on the play.
That set the stage for Conforto’s dramatics — and perhaps the biggest win of the year. "We’ve thrived," he said, "on adversity."