PITTSBURGH - Daisuke Matsuzaka stuck out his tongue and looked away, fully aware of his transgression.
At a critical juncture in Thursday night's 5-2 loss to the Pirates, the Mets righthander shook off Travis d'Arnaud, insisting on throwing a slider after the catcher originally signaled for a changeup. And highly touted rookie Gregory Polanco drilled Matsuzaka's 3-and-2 pitch into the upper reaches of the rightfield stands.
With one swing of the bat, the Pirates' one-run lead turned into a four-run cushion in the fifth, which proved too much for the Mets to overcome.
"It ended up being a big mistake," Matsuzaka said through a translator. "I need to apologize to [d'Arnaud] about it."
"He had a chance to make a pitch to [Polanco] and just didn't get it down," manager Terry Collins said shortly after his team began a seven-game road trip with its second consecutive loss.
Matsuzaka, 33, has demonstrated his versatility despite difficult circumstances. The Mets forced a bullpen conversion on the lifelong starter, only to drop him back into the rotation when Dillon Gee went down with an injury.
But on a sloppy night for the Mets overall, Matsuzaka (3-2) delivered his most lackluster start. He allowed five hits and a season-high five runs in six innings. He struck out four but walked just as many.
"I didn't have my best stuff today but I just wanted to fight through," Matsuzaka said.
Before the game, the Mets received a welcome boost when centerfielder Juan Lagares returned to the lineup after more than three weeks on the disabled list. But it wasn't enough to jump-start the Mets, whose only run off winning pitcher Vance Worley (2-0) came on Lucas Duda's 11th homer. Doubles by Daniel Murphy and David Wright produced the other run in the eighth.
After the Pirates scored in the third, with Jordy Mercer walking and eventually scoring on Polanco's grounder, Duda's shot in the fourth tied it. But the Pirates pushed ahead 2-1 in the fourth on a bizarre pickoff play.
Andrew McCutchen doubled to begin the inning and moved to third on Russell Martin's groundout. Former Met Ike Davis drew a two-out walk, giving the Pirates runners at the corners with Pedro Alvarez at the plate.
For a moment, the Mets appeared to catch a break when Matsuzaka threw over to first base and caught Davis breaking for second. But as the Mets executed the rundown, they appeared to lose track of the speedy McCutchen, who scored before Davis was tagged out.
Said Collins: "You've just got to make sure he goes back to third."
With that, the Pirates seized the lead, which they padded with Polanco's second homer of the season. The three-run shot was only the second homer allowed by Matsuzaka this year, the first since May 13 at Yankee Stadium.
Matsuzaka began Polanco's at-bat hoping to generate a double-play grounder. But when d'Arnaud failed to glove a breaking ball -- it officially was ruled a passed ball -- the Pirates had runners at second and third.
"It made the situation a little bit more difficult," Matsuzaka said. "I was going for a strikeout. But the result ended up being the worst possible result."