Change in batting order changes Pirates’ fortunes in win over Mets
NEW YORK — Looking to shake his team out of its slump, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle juggled the top of his lineup.
Didn’t hurt that the Pirates ran into the perfect opponent, too — a team struggling even worse than they were.
Josh Bell hit a two-run homer, Gregory Polanco also went deep and Pittsburgh took advantage of some dreadful defense by the New York Mets to snap a five-game losing streak with a 6-4 victory Monday night.
“If it’s broken you have to fix it, right?” said Bell, who batted second. “Changing things up. It might have been the spark that we needed.”
In a series opener between tumbling teams, Pittsburgh built a five-run cushion and held on to hand the Mets their seventh straight defeat before a mostly quiet crowd of 22,135. New York (31-45) is 6-24 in its last 30 games — and that 11-1 start to the season feels like ancient history.
Playing at home has hardly helped. The reeling Mets, with the fewest wins in the National League, have lost 14 of 15 at Citi Field — falling to 13-25 in their own ballpark this season.
“It’s tough,” rookie manager Mickey Callaway said. “We need to start playing better baseball to win some games.”
After totaling only eight runs during their skid, the Pirates shuffled the first three hitters in their batting order. Leadoff man Starling Marte stole two bases and scored three times as Pittsburgh, which was in first place on May 17, won for only the 11th time in 35 games.
“We’re just looking for anything to kick-start us. Different guys hitting in different spots, maybe getting some different pitches to hit,” winning pitcher Jameson Taillon said. “So I think it was fun. I think it was good to mix things up. If you do the same thing over and over, you’re crazy. So we mix it and we got some results.”
Taillon (5-6) took a two-hit shutout into the seventh inning against a makeshift Mets lineup before New York tried to rally. Consecutive doubles by Jose Reyes and Kevin Plawecki chased Taillon, and a three-run homer by pinch-hitter Wilmer Flores off Tyler Glasnow trimmed Pittsburgh’s lead to 5-4.
Steven Brault entered and threw seven straight balls before recovering to strike out Jose Bautista on a pitch in the dirt. Brault then got Asdrubal Cabrera to ground into an inning-ending double play.
Cabrera also committed an earlier error at second base.
Kyle Crick pitched out of trouble in the eighth, and Elias Diaz provided an insurance run with a sacrifice fly in the ninth. Felipe Vazquez struck out the side for his 15th save in 19 attempts.
“That’s the way you’re looking for your closer to finish the game,” Hurdle said. “That’s as good as he’s pitched all season.”
Two errors in the first three innings by rookie third baseman Luis Guillorme — touted as a slick fielder — led directly to a pair of unearned runs against Mets starter Seth Lugo (2-3).
“Didn’t make the plays,” Guillorme said. “I should be able to play anywhere they put me.”
Josh Harrison hit a sacrifice fly in the first, Polanco had a solo homer in the second and Diaz delivered a two-out RBI single in the third.
It was only the second home run since May 12 for Polanco, who came off the bench the previous three days.
Bell sliced a two-run shot into the left-field corner in the sixth, his first homer since May 31 at St. Louis. Bell has three homers in four career games at Citi Field, where the Pirates have won 11 of their last 16.
“Everyone contributed something,” Hurdle said. “Marte has the ability to change a game up top, just to really get you going.”
In the wake of Arizona’s four-game sweep at PNC Park last weekend, Hurdle spoke to his team.
“I felt we just needed as a group to recommit to some things,” he said.