It was not easy — toiling through deep counts in the heat never is.
But Steven Matz battled.
When he left Tuesday’s game at Citi Field after six innings and a career-high 120 pitches, the Mets were in position to beat the Diamondbacks. Then Hansel Robles allowed three runs in the seventh, walking off to boos from the 31,884 in attendance after getting just two outs, and the visitors won, 5-3.
Instead of earning his ninth win this year, Matz (8-8) received his first no-decision since June 30 against the Cubs. And the Mets (57-55) missed an opportunity to gain ground on Washington (66-46) and fell to 2 1⁄2 games behind Miami (60-53) for the National League’s second wild card.
That Matz, pitching with a bone spur in his left elbow, made it through six innings was a minor miracle. He needed 28 pitches in the first inning and another 22 in the second.
“He’s feeling good, so we let him stay out there,” Terry Collins said.
Matz surrendered five hits, walked one and matched a career high of nine strikeouts. The Diamondbacks inflicted their damage against the southpaw from Stony Brook with solo shots by Brandon Drury and Paul Goldschmidt. Robles relieved Matz to start the seventh.
“[Matz] grinded it out,” said Neil Walker, who went 3-for-4 with a two-run homer in the sixth that gave the Mets a 3-2 lead. “For his pitch count to be where it was and for him to grind out the innings that he did, that was big for us.”
The first inning in particular set Matz back, or as Collins said, it “killed him.”
Though Matz threw 28 pitches, he faced just four batters. Michael Bourn’s failed sacrifice bunt enabled Travis d’Arnaud to throw out Jean Segura, who singled leading off and stole second, and Matz struck out Goldschmidt and Rickie Weeks Jr. to end the frame.
Segura, Goldschmidt and Weeks Jr. each worked the count to at least 2-and-2, something the Diamondbacks did 15 times against Matz.
“I was leaving some pitches up, and they were fouling off so many pitches, which made me go deep into counts,” Matz said. “I wasn’t really efficient with my pitches there.”
Leading off the second inning, Drury homered on a 3-and-2 fastball. But Matz responded by retiring 13 of the next 15 Diamondbacks, including a string of four straight strikeouts.
Then with one out in the sixth — after Matz failed to execute both a sacrifice bunt and then a hit-and-run in the fifth — Goldschmidt launched a first-pitch sinker into the rightfield stands.
After finishing the inning, an emotional Matz pounded his glove in the dugout.
“It was just a little frustrating because Terry brought me out there to hit in the bottom of the fifth,” Matz said, “and I failed to get the bunt down, then failed to get the hit-and-run and then I gave up a home run and they took the lead in that inning, so I was just a little frustrated coming out of there.”