Taijuan Walker likes to throw his splitter. Edwin Diaz prefers to get regular work. Jeff McNeil is a second baseman.
All of these things have been true, and yet none of them contributed to the Mets’ 4-3 win over the Pirates on Friday night.
Walker stayed away from his splitter, instead riding his fastball and even his curveball at times against an aggressive Pirates lineup.
Diaz, who said he’s gotten away from needing to be in games all the time to stay sharp, got five outs for his 30th save. He entered the game having thrown only 41 pitches in September.
McNeil saved a couple of runs with a leaping catch in right and later secured the final out on a long fly ball that seemed destined to tie the score.
It’s about growth and adaptability, and on Friday, the Mets, led by Walker, aced the subject.
Daniel Vogelbach hit a home run and Luis Guillorme made a pivotal tag at second base for the first out of the ninth inning in a game in which the Mets never trailed.
“I think it’s a reflection of the type of team we have,” Buck Showalter said when asked about McNeil’s versatility. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a team that was so comfortable or trustworthy with [changes in] the batting order. There’s no egos involved.”
Walker, who has struggled in the second half of the season because of back spasms and blisters, put together his second strong start in a row, allowing three runs (two earned), five hits and no walks in 7 1⁄3 innings, striking out five. He cruised until the eighth, when he allowed a two-run homer by Oneil Cruz, prompting Diaz’s trumpets.
Diaz recorded the last two outs of the eighth but walked Ben Gamel to lead off the ninth. Pinch runner Greg Allen took off for second and beat the throw, but Guillorme put his leg down to block the bag before applying the tag. Allen was called safe, but a manager’s challenge earned the Mets their first out before Diaz retired the next two, the last on a fly ball to the warning track in rightfield.
After pitching to a 2.55 ERA in the first half, Walker had compiled a 6.25 ERA in the eight starts after the All-Star break — that is, until his recent revival. He has allowed three earned runs in 14 1⁄3 innings in his last two starts.
On Friday, he showcased a sharp fastball and used his curveball more than usual.
“I’m just changing up the program,” Walker said. “I really feel like the scouting report on me is that he throws a lot of splitters, so I really want to establish everything else [too].”
The Mets got the first baserunner of the game in the third, when Mitch Keller walked Eduardo Escobar with one out. Tomas Nido lined a single to right and Escobar, who was running with the pitch, scored from first.
Walker didn’t allow a runner until there were two outs in the fourth, when Rodolfo Castro singled past a diving Pete Alonso. Walker retired Gamel on a groundout.
Vogelbach, looking to break out of the 5-for-42 slump he took into the series, homered off Keller in the fourth. He was 1-for-2 with two walks Friday and collected two hits Thursday.
The Pirates were able to cut the 2-0 lead in half off soft contact in the fifth but could’ve gotten far more if not for McNeil’s glove. With one unearned run in and two men on, Cruz drilled a curveball 360 feet to right, where McNeil made a leaping grab at the wall to save at least two runs.
Alonso’s sacrifice fly in the sixth made it 3-1. Escobar led off the seventh with a double and moved to third when Cruz booted Nido’s grounder. Brandon Nimmo then hit a looper to left that dropped over Cruz’s shoulder for an RBI single.
They’d need every bit of that three-run lead in the eighth, when Cruz blasted a no-doubter to the apple in center for his 16th homer, paring the lead to one run. That brought in Diaz, getting his first save opportunity since Aug. 31.
“I’ve been getting better” with learning how to deal with a smaller workload, Diaz said. “I’m more mature right now. I understand the game better and at this part of the season, I don’t have to come in to pitch for no reason . . . I’ll be ready when they need [it].”
It’s called growth, and on Friday night, Diaz and the rest of the Mets showed plenty of it.