Mets blow early lead, head to break with split vs. lowly Pirates

Mets Pirates Nogowski
John Nogowski (69) recorded the game-winning single for the Pirates in a comeback victory over the Mets.
Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

The Mets are going into the All-Star break with a multi-game lead in the National League East, yet they’re still going to have a sour taste in their mouths.

After taking a 5-0 lead with one out in the first inning, the Mets didn’t score again — falling 6-5 to the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates to settle for a four-game series split.

Manager Luis Rojas’ bullpen game turned out to backfire with the Mets struggling for starting-pitching depth, as the combination of six pitchers yielded a Pirates’ season-best of 15 hits, including two home runs from Pittsburgh’s new rookie sensation, Rodolfo Castro.

Yet the Mets still had an opportunity to get out of Sunday with a win as Edwin Diaz was one out away from converting a five-out save, but RBI singles from John Nogowski and Wilmer Difo put the Pirates ahead in the ninth innings.

Reliever Aaron Loup opened the game with a 1-2-3 first inning, including two strikeouts. It was the veteran southpaw’s first-career start in his 437 career appearance, making him the 31st pitcher in MLB history to post just one start with 400 or more games played.

He and the Mets’ stable of pitchers were immediately fueled with a bevy of support as they hung five on Pirates starter Chase De Jong in the first inning.

After a lead-off Brandon Nimmo double, Francisco Lindor launched his 11th home run of the season and second of the series against the Pirates deep into the Mets’ bullpen in right-center field.

Four batters later, the struggling Michael Conforto showed signs of life when he took De Jong out of the park to center field for a three-run home run, his third round-tripper of the year and his first since May 1.

In cruise control — and the offense basically packing it in with just one hit in the ensuing five innings — the Mets turned to Jerad Eickhoff after Loup went the opening two innings. But he ran into considerable trouble in the fifth inning when he allowed back-to-back home runs to Rodolfo Castro and Michael Perez to pull the Pirates back within three.

After a pair of singles to Adam Frazier and Kevin Newman, Eickhoff was pulled for Jeurys Familia — who was at least able to get out of the fifth without taking on any more water.

The sixth, however, provided plenty of more unease for the Mets as Familia ran into two-out troubles. Just one more out away from safety, he walked Difo before Castro launched his second home run in as many innings to cut the Mets’ lead down to one.

After Miguel Castro got through the seventh and put runners on the corners with one out in the eighth, Rojas called on the closer Diaz for a five-out save.

Pittsburgh’s new-found slugger in Castro worked a walk to load the bases, but Diaz bore down with two-straight strikeouts of Perez — a slider that missed the plate by six inches that was called — and the pinch-hitting Ke’Bryan Hayes to get out of a major jam to keep the Mets in front.

He wouldn’t get through the ninth, though, as John Nogowski drove home Kevin Newman with an RBI single following his one-out double earlier in the frame.

After allowing a single to Ben Gamel, Diaz and the Mets fell behind when Difo singled to left, scoring Nogowski.

A lead-off single from Luis Guillorme to try and spark a Mets rally was wiped out when Nimmo hit into a double play in the bottom of the ninth.