PITTSBURGH — In the Mets’ 8-4 loss to the Pirates on Friday night, which ended their winning streak at seven games, baseball again showed its amazingly, frustratingly, mind-numbingly unpredictable nature.
Last weekend, Steven Matz tossed his first career shutout against the Pirates. He maintained that pace through three innings Friday at PNC Park. Then he completely lost it in the fourth, allowing five runs before manager Mickey Callaway pulled him after 65 pitches and 3 2⁄3 innings.
The Mets (53-56) are five games out of a National League wild-card spot and would have to pass five other teams. Moving closer will have to wait.
“Oh, it’s not a deflation,” Callaway said of the streak ending. “We weren’t going to go undefeated the rest of the way. So we just gotta start another one.”
Matz’s meltdown happened in a hurry. With the Mets holding a 3-0 lead, Bryan Reynolds led off with a walk. Starling Marte and Josh Bell singled in a span of three pitches, with Bell driving in Pittsburgh’s first run (and ending Matz’s 14-inning scoreless streak). Jose Osuna singled to center for another run. Melky Cabrera shot a two-run double off the left-centerfield wall to give the Pirates a 4-3 lead. Adam Frazier grounded out, but Elias Diaz blooped an RBI single to center, and Matz’s night ended with Trevor Williams’ sacrifice bunt.
In Matz’s first 12 innings against the Pirates, he held them to 6-for-41 (.146). In the fourth inning, they went 5-for-6 against the lefthander.
“Balls started getting up out over the plate, and they weren’t missing it,” Callaway said. “It happened quick and we had to get him out of there.”
The whole sequence took only 22 pitches.
“It all snowballed so fast,” Matz said. “I was out of the game and I’m just like, I can’t believe I’m out of this game. Especially with how I went the first time through the lineup. I should’ve just taken a breather for a second and try to execute a pitch. Instead, I kept going and going. The balls just were up in the zone.”
Matz added that he might have been too predictable while facing a team for a second start in a row. Last week he got Cabrera out on sliders twice. In the fourth, Matz threw him a slider over the middle of the plate and it wound up hitting an outfield wall.
Almost presciently, Callaway had predicted that this one would be tougher than Matz’s complete game.
“Every pitch was working. It’s not always going to be that easy,” he said Friday afternoon. “I wouldn’t suspect it’s going to go as easy as it did last time for him.”
The bad inning worsened Matz’s dramatic home/road splits this season. At Citi Field, he has a 2.06 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. Everywhere else, he has a 6.79 ERA and 1.67 WHIP.
The Mets were within one in the seventh when Tyler Bashlor allowed a three-run homer by Marte. Between Matz and Bashlor, Robert Gsellman threw 2 1⁄3 hitless innings and 41 pitches, giving the Mets a chance but likely burning him for the series.
Williams settled in after early trouble to last six innings, allowing three runs. In the first, Pete Alonso (2-for-4) doubled home Jeff McNeil, who had doubled on the first pitch of the game. J.D. Davis rocketed an RBI double to centerfield in the third.
The game and the streak looked great until Matz stopped being great.
“I felt so good throughout the whole game, even when it did snowball, I felt like I could make a pitch,” he said. “But I just didn’t.”