Speed still has a special place in Major League Baseball and for the New York Mets, Terrance Gore just carved a special place in Queens.
The lightning-quick sprinter, who has carved a major-league career out of stealing bases, stole second base and coaxed an error on the throw to take third to set up Brandon Nimmo’s game-winning, bloop RBI single in the bottom of the eighth to break a 3-3 tie and pave the way for a 7-3 Mets victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday afternoon at Citi Field.
“I just take pride in what I do,” Gore said, who swiped his 43rd-career stolen base compared to just 16 at-bats. “It’s almost like a cat and mouse game. It’s a game versus me and the pitcher and the catcher and can I get to second base.”
New York blew it open later in the frame when Daniel Vogelbach drove in two with a bases-loaded single.
The late-inning heroics clinched a four-game sweep for the Mets (93-55) — the first time they’ve done that all season — while keeping a one-game lead atop the NL East intact over the Atlanta Braves, who defeated the Philadelphia Phillies again on Sunday.
It was Tomas Nido who initially set the table for the Mets’ victory as he led the eighth off with a single. He was pinch run for by Gore.
Had it not been for budding Pirates superstar Oneil Cruz, ace Jacob deGrom would have had one of his best days a Met — and for good reason. From the second to 17th Pittsburgh batter he faced, the star hurler retired 15 in a row and struck out 13 while allowing two hits.
The problem was that Cruz led off the game with a 111-mph double and bookended deGrom’s day with a three-run home run to tie it with no outs in the sixth, marring deGrom’s line to three earned runs on four hits with those season-high 13 strikeouts and 101 pitches. It was the first time this season that he eclipsed the triple-digit-pitch mark.
“I felt good. First time doing this on five day’s rest,” deGrom said. “I felt like my stuff was good.”
In total, Mets pitchers struck out 20 batters, which tied a franchise and major-league record for a nine-inning game.
“It starts with Jake,” Mets manager Buck Showalter said. “I think I’m most proud of the fact that we didn’t walk anybody… Pitching keeps momentum [at bay].”
The trouble created by Cruz forced deGrom to throw a season-high 26 pitches in the first, but he proceeded to strike out the next three Pirates he faced, getting out of an early jam unscathed.
So began a dominant spell that saw the righty strike out seven during the first time through the Pirates’ order — including five straight between the first and second innings — and 10 in the first 13 batters he faced over four innings. He continued to deal in the fifth, striking out the side to set a new season high of 13 in just 16 batters faced in a streak that saw him retire 15 consecutive Pirates.
The Mets immediately got deGrom the lead when Jeff McNeil singled up the middle to score Brandon Nimmo from third in the first. However, things immediately got heated when the first pitch Pirates starter Johan Oviedo threw to the ensuing batter, Pete Alonso, hit the slugger in the hand.
Alonso angrily jawed toward the Pirates pitcher as he walked down the baseline as he was the fifth Mets hitter plunked by a Pittsburgh hurler in the previous six innings, prompting benches to clear. But cooler heads barely prevailed without fisticuffs.
It was the 102nd Mets batter plunked this season, just three back of the Cincinnati Reds’ modern-day record of 105.
They plated another two in the second after Ovideo walked in a run with McNeil at the plate and Alonso — who couldn’t quite get revenge — beat out a double play to plate another.
New York’s offensive afternoon once again was dotted with missed opportunities to put the game away earlier. They left 11 runners on base through the first seven innings while going 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position.
Cruz would draw the Pirates level with no outs in the sixth after lead-off singles from Zack Collins and Jason Delay, ending deGrom’s day on an unlikely and sour note. The young Pittsburgh star went down and took a deGrom sinker 389 feet over the right-center field wall on a liner that went 104 mph off the bat.
“I felt good until the sixth,” deGrom said. “I didn’t make some pitches when I needed to… I wasn’t able to keep them where they were at.
“It wasn’t a terrible pitch [to Cruz]. I was more mad about the pitch before. The slider got a little more east-west than I wanted it.”
The frame would once again end with heightened tensions after Pittsburgh’s Bryan Reynolds overslid second base on a late lunge and got a piece of Luis Guillorme on the inning-ending fielder’s choice. While both parties milled for an extra moment on the field, opposing dugouts traded verbal jabs from across the diamond.