A disappointing finish to a successful first half of the season left the Mets in an odd — and apparently celebratory — position Sunday afternoon.
After a 6-5 loss to the Pirates in their last game before the All-Star break, a stunning collapse after they took a five-run lead in the first inning, Mets players gathered in the clubhouse for "our own little meeting," Michael Conforto said. That included "celebrating making it to the All-Star break" and an impromptu speech from Francisco Lindor.
"He said a few words," Conforto said. "Great job, great first half, we did a lot of great things. Take the time to relax, do whatever you need to do, get your mind off the game. Work on some stuff if you want to work on some stuff. And let’s come back and keep playing like a first-place team."
At the unofficial halfway point of the season, the Mets are 47-40. They lead the NL East — by 3 1⁄2 games — at the break for the first time since 2007. No other team in the division has a winning record.
But their standing could have been even better. The Mets split a four-game series with the rebuilding/bad Pirates (34-56), including the brutal loss Sunday.
Lindor’s two-run homer and Conforto’s three-run blast meant five of the Mets’ first six hitters scored against Pittsburgh righthander Chase De Jong (five innings, five runs). Then the lineup started its All-Star break eight innings early.
"We should’ve been able to put up a couple more runs as the game went on," Conforto said.
The Pirates scored against Jerad Eickhoff and Jeurys Familia to make it interesting going into the late innings. With Seth Lugo and Trevor May unavailable because of their recent usage, manager Luis Rojas had two options: 1) try to squeeze nine outs from Miguel Castro (8.31 ERA the previous month) and closer Edwin Diaz or 2) mix in Drew Smith, who has a 2.92 ERA but hasn’t seen many high-leverage situations.
"With the game tight, we were going to use the guy that has closed the most games for us, the guy that has gotten the bigger outs," Rojas said.
Diaz, asked for a five-out save, got four. After he picked up two strikeouts to escape a bases-loaded jam in the eighth, John Nogowski’s single tied the score and Wilmer Difo’s single put Pittsburgh ahead during a two-out rally in the ninth. It was Diaz’s second blown save in 21 chances.
"I was a little bit tired [by the time the Mets were an out away from winning]," Diaz said. "After I get two outs, I was thinking make one pitch to get the inning done and get the win for the team. But I wasn’t able."
It was perhaps the Mets’ worst loss of the year.
"It was a tough loss. I don’t want to call it the toughest loss. All losses are tough," Rojas said. "I don’t think any of the guys are going to be impacted in a bad way after losing a tough game like this one."
Beginning a bullpen day for the Mets was lefthander Aaron Loup, whose first start came in his 437th major-league appearance (in 10 seasons). He tossed two scoreless innings.
"I enjoyed it," Loup said. "Something different. Something I’ve been lobbying for all year. They probably let me do it just to shut me up a little bit."
Although the Mets had teased the possibility all week, Jacob deGrom did not pitch on short rest. He instead threw a bullpen session in the morning. Now he will skip the All-Star Game and use the break as a true break, like most of the rest of the Mets.
They don’t play again until Friday in Pittsburgh. They’ll have to sit with this loss.
"The first half don’t mean a whole lot," Loup said, expressing a personal sentiment that applies to the whole team, "if you don’t finish it out in the end."
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