The Mets won their second straight game Wednesday at Citi Field since the Memorial Day mayhem that resulted in the firings of batting coach Dave Hudgens and relief pitcher Jose Valverde, but it wasn't as though they were tearing the cover off the ball for Lamar Johnson, Hudgens' replacement. They were 2-for-11 hitting with runners in scoring position, stranded eight and ran into two outs at third base.
What enabled them to shut out Pittsburgh, 5-0, and take two of three in the series was what works best at spacious Citi Field -- dominant pitching. Bartolo Colon celebrated his 41st birthday on Saturday by turning back the clock to throw 121 pitches, his most in 10 years, and strike out nine. He allowed five hits and issued one intentional walk in 71/3 innings, and 24-year-old Jeurys Familia threw his hat into the running for the closer role with a five-out save that was only the second of his career.
David Wright, who provided the timely hitting with an RBI single in the third inning and a solo home run in the sixth that gave the Mets a 3-0 lead, enjoyed the show from his vantage point at third base. "It's amazing," Wright said of Colon's mastery of the strike zone. "It was in, out, up, down.
"You look at the scoreboard, and it's a high-80s, low-90s fastball. He throws a lot of them, but he knows exactly where it's going and he dissects hitters. He's a much better athlete than people give him credit for."
At 285 pounds, Colon doesn't exactly look the part, and his awkward at-bats were a source of comic relief for a Kids Day crowd announced at 34,839. He has a habit of taking his bat with him as he trots down the first-base line after he hits a dribbler for a groundout.
"I just think I take it myself so that the batboy doesn't have to do extra work," Colon said good-naturedly.
But on a day when relievers Jenrry Mejia, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Vic Black were not available, Colon also provided bullpen relief. He allowed only four Pirates to advance as far as second base and threw 85 strikes. In the sixth inning, he recorded the 2,000th strikeout of his career against former Met Ike Davis.
"I'm really happy," said Colon, who wasn't aware of the achievement until he saw it on the scoreboard. "After all my years in the big leagues , it feels really good to get that number."
The last time Colon threw more pitches was on Aug. 18, 2004, for Anaheim at Tampa Bay, when he had 128, but he made it look easy against the Pirates. "I feel really good, thank God," Colon said. "When you have a game like that, you feel even better afterwards. I was aware we were short on the bullpen, so I was prepared to go a long game."
When Colon gave up two one-out singles in the eighth, manager Terry Collins brought in Familia, who got Davis to hit into an inning-ending double play on the first pitch. Lucas Duda gave the Mets breathing room with a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth. Then, Familia finished up, allowing one hit in the ninth when his fastball reached 97 miles per hour.
Collins said Familia is a closer candidate along with Mejia and Black.
"Familia did a great job," Collins said. "Twenty pitches, 16 strikes. That's a good sign. He's got to be on the back end, a late-in-the-game guy."