By Anthony DiComo and Sarah K. Spencer
PITTSBURGH -- In his first outing against his old team, left-hander Jonathon Niese quieted Mets hitters as the Pirates won the first game of a doubleheader, 3-1, at PNC Park on Tuesday.
An RBI single by David Freese in the first inning ensured the Pirates never trailed the Mets. Andrew McCutchen added another RBI single in the fifth inning and shortstop Jordy Mercer sent a solo home run to center field in the sixth, giving the Pirates a 3-0 lead. That was Mercer's first home run at PNC Park since August 2014.
In the eighth inning, Neftali Feliz relieved Niese, who struck out two and held the Mets to four hits in seven innings pitched. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle noted Niese's command down in the strike zone.
"He's been in a nice lane for a while now," Hurdle said.
Feliz surrendered a solo home run to Curtis Granderson off a four-seam fastball, but it wasn't enough for a Mets comeback, thanks to closer Mark Melancon earning save No. 18.
"One thing Jon Niese can do, he can get ground balls," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "If you don't have a plan of using the field to hit, and you keep trying to pull him, he's going to get easy outs."
The Mets move to 31-25 and will start right-hander Jacob deGrom in Game 2, while the Pirates move to 31-26 and will start right-hander Juan Nicasio.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Both hands on deck: After taking a 94-mph fastball to the hand in Miami last Thursday, Freese returned to the lineup and gave Pittsburgh its first run of the day, singling to right field and scoring Josh Harrison, who had three hits. He later doubled in the seventh. Catcher Francisco Cervelli, also hit by a pitch in the same game, returned to the lineup.
A rare loss: Despite allowing eight hits in five innings, Mets starter Steven Matz still missed plenty of bats, also striking out eight Pirates on the day. It wasn't enough. He lost for just the second time in 16 career regular-season starts, snapping a personal seven-game winning streak. The Mets have now lost two straight games that Matz has started after winning seven in a row.
"I had nothing out there today," Matz said. "I was really scuffling since the first inning on. I tried to battle the best I could, but to only go through five innings in a doubleheader like this, I was pretty disappointed in myself."
Mets claw back: After Curtis Granderson snapped a 16-inning scoreless streak for the Mets with a leadoff homer against Neftali Feliz in the eighth, Yoenis Cespedes drew a one-out walk to bring the tying run to the plate. But Neil Walker and Wilmer Flores grounded out against Feliz to end the inning.
"You've just got to battle through it," Collins said. "That's what the game's about. There's no instant fix. You've got to get everybody going, and we're not hitting as a group."
"We've got some guys struggling, there's no question. And they're huge pieces." -- Collins, on the Mets' offensive woes
"I think a lot of it is trusting the process. I've been working hard in between starts, selling out to what [Cervelli] and I have as far as our game plan. And just being able to execute in the bottom the zone, being able to get early outs, go deep in the game." -- Niese, on his string of solid starts
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Matz became the first Mets pitcher in three years to hit a triple, ripping a Niese pitch into the right-field corner in the fifth. Matz's .273 career batting average ranks fourth among big league pitchers since his debut last June.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
Niese and the Pirates thought they had an inning-ending double play when Rene Rivera bounced a ball to third base with a man on first in the seventh. It took only a 45-second review for umpires to determine that Rivera had actually beaten the relay to first, though the Mets did not wind up scoring in the inning.
WHAT'S NEXT Mets: One larger-than-life Texas right-hander will face another Wednesday, when Noah Syndergaard welcomes Pittsburgh's Jameson Taillon to the big leagues. Consider it an unenviable task for Taillon; Syndergaard owns a 3-0 record and 0.74 ERA over his last five outings, one of them a relief appearance, striking out 35 batters with one walk in 24 1/3 innings.
Pirates: Taillon will make his Major League debut when he's called up from Triple-A Indianapolis on Wednesday. The right-hander has fought his way back from two years of injuries, compiling a 4-2 record and 2.04 ERA in 2016.