Mets stabilize, sweep doubleheader of Pirates to regain slim NL East lead

Eduardo Escobar Mets Pirates
New York Mets’ Eduardo Escobar (10) scores on a wild pitch by Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Johan Oviedo, right, during the second inning of the second baseball game of a doubleheader in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The division lead they’ve enjoyed for most of the season gone, the New York Mets returned to a reliable mix of timely power and terrific pitching to move back in front in the NL East.

Chris Bassitt threw seven strong innings in Game 1 and Jacob deGrom was even better in Game 2 as the Mets swept a doubleheader from the reeling Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday.

Bassitt (13-7) allowed one run in a 5-1 victory in the opener, then deGrom (5-1) gave up just three hits in a 10-0 romp in the nightcap as the Mets pushed back ahead of Atlanta by a half-game in a division race that appears it could go down to the wire.

“I said it from day one, it’s going to be a tight race and it should be a tight race,” said shortstop Francisco Lindor, who went 2 for 4 and drove in three runs in Game 2.

The dominant performances from deGrom and Bassitt came hours after the Mets placed three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer on the 15-day injured list for the second time this season. Scherzer is dealing with soreness in his left side and is out until at least Sept. 19.

The injury isn’t as severe as the one that forced the 38-year-old ace to miss nearly two months earlier this season.

While the Mets will miss Scherzer, they’re also in the midst of a long stretch against clubs with losing records. And with a postseason berth all but secure, their eyes are firmly set on the playoffs.

“I think we’re doing everything in our power to be smart so we’re ready for October,” Bassitt said. “And that’s what it’s about.”

Too bad there aren’t any doubleheaders in the playoffs. New York improved to 14-4 in twinbills this season after pummeling the last-place Pirates.

“It’s just a matter of concentration and going out there and making sure you give your best from the first game and then refreshing and going back and giving it your best effort in the second game,” Lindor said.

New York put up 15 runs Wednesday after managing four in a three-game skid that briefly dropped the team into a tie with the Braves for the division lead.

The Mets touched up Johan Oviedo and the Pirates for 17 hits in Game 2. Eduardo Escobar went 6 for 9 on the day, including a solo home run in the fourth inning of Game 1 that staked New York to a 5-0 lead.

“I think it’s a reminder of what he’s capable of doing,” New York manager Buck Showalter said of Escobar, who has three home runs in his last six games and is a .431 career hitter (38 for 88) against Pittsburgh.

No reminders are necessary when it comes to deGrom, who allowed consecutive singles to Oneil Cruz and Bryan Reynolds to start the bottom of the first before settling in.

The 34-year-old righty retired the next 12 batters and 16 of 17. He didn’t allow his third hit until Reynolds singled with one out in the sixth. By then the Mets were already firmly in control.

“The goal is just to throw it where I want and execute pitches,” deGrom said. “I was fortunate enough to have some good defense behind me, and the guys put up a ton of runs.”

The Pirates are 5-20 in their last 25 games and have lost eight games this season by at least 10 runs.

Pittsburgh is rebuilding. The Mets are focused on playing well into October, which is why Bassitt stressed there was no reason to panic despite a surge from the hard-charging Braves, who trailed by 10 1/2 games at one point before briefly pulling even on Tuesday.

“I’m sure that the world was going crazy, but, I mean, we’re fine,” he said.