PITTSBURGH -- The Mets came to PNC Park with a vaunted rotation and a pitching staff that owned the Majors' second-lowest ERA. Yet it was the Pirates who imposed their will from the mound during Tuesday's doubleheader, finishing the two-game sweep with a 3-1 win in the nightcap.
Known the last three years for their pitching and defense, the Pirates began the day with a staff ERA that ranked slightly below the Major League average. But the back end of the Bucs' rotation delivered throughout the day. After left-hander Jonathon Niese held the Mets scoreless for seven innings and outdueled Steven Matz in the opener, right-hander Juan Nicasio and four Pirates relievers limited the Mets to four hits in the nightcap, striking out 11. Overall, the Pirates' pitching staff allowed two runs on nine hits and five walks while striking out 17 over 18 innings.
"That's what you look for every time you go out. It doesn't always happen, because the other team, those guys get paid, too," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "The pitching plan was executed very well by the starters and the relievers that followed. Really good job off the mound all day, all night."
But Niese, Nicasio and the Pirates' bullpen made the most of their run support on Tuesday. The Bucs put up two early runs behind Nicasio against Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom, and Nicasio limited the Mets to one run while striking out seven over five-plus innings. Jared Hughes got him out of a jam in the sixth, and Tony Watson pitched a clean seventh. Working for the second time in about four hours, Neftali Feliz struck out the side in the eighth and closer Mark Melancon completed a two-save day -- the Pirates' first since Matt Capps on Aug. 28, 2007 -- to seal the win.
"It kind of unites everybody," Melancon said of Pittsburgh's staff-wide success. "I feel like we've done that for the last 3 1/2 years. Obviously there have been some rough patches every year. It's bound to happen. We don't lose confidence in one another. It's a strong bond we have down there."
The Pirates extended their winning streak against the Mets to nine games. New York has lost seven of its last 10 games, scoring a combined 23 runs during that stretch.
"That's just a part of baseball," said Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who finished 0-for-7 in the doubleheader. "Everyone has some highs and some lows."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED One is the loneliest number: After scoring a single run in Game 1 of the doubleheader, the Mets continued their offensive struggles with just one more on a Kevin Plawecki RBI single in the nightcap. The Mets have scored a total of two runs over their last 27 innings, averaging a Major League-worst 2.3 per night over their last 10 games.
"I don't know if there's one general thing," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "We've got to apply some of the stuff we're working on. We've got to put the ball in play." More >
Here's Johnny: Plawecki's fifth-inning RBI single cut the Pirates' lead in half, but the margin wouldn't last for long. After back-to-back singles by catcher Chris Stewart and Nicasio, John Jaso ripped an RBI double into the right-center-field gap. The ball rolled to the wall, allowing Stewart to score and reestablishing the Bucs' two-run lead.
Cleanup man: Nicasio was brilliant early on, keeping the Mets off the basepaths for four innings. He cracked in the fifth, giving up a leadoff single to Neil Walker and eventually a run on Plawecki's RBI single, and walked the first batter he faced in the sixth. Rather than let Nicasio try to work his way out of the jam, Hurdle turned to Hughes. The ground-ball specialist did his job, needing four pitches to get three outs on a double play and another groundout.
"He's a very integral part of what we do out there," Hurdle said. "When he's in sync and doing things, it makes us much stronger in a couple different ways."
Whiffs not enough: Fanning five straight batters from the second through fourth innings, deGrom showcased the same swing-and-miss stuff he used to dominate the White Sox in his previous outing. Only this time, it wasn't enough. Jaso and friends did enough damage to keep deGrom winless for a seventh consecutive start, despite 19 strikeouts over his last two.
"When you go out there, you don't really think about that," deGrom said. "I think everybody on this staff's goal is just to put up zeros. Everybody's grinding, trying to do their best. It's just a tough stretch we're in right now, but things will turn around."
"It was a lot of emotions. But more than anything, we come away from the day with two losses, which is ultimately the worst-case scenario." -- Mets second baseman Neil Walker, on playing in his first games in Pittsburgh since a December trade to the Mets
"I just have a ton of respect for Neil. I realize what he means to this city. … I'm sure he'll be a commentator here or they'll have a statue of him. I'm hoping I'm there for the ceremony." -- Melancon, on striking out Walker for the last out
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The last Mets pitcher to beat the Pirates? None other than Niese, the winning pitcher in the Mets' 5-3 victory over the Pirates on June 28, 2014.
This was the first doubleheader between the Pirates and Mets since Pittsburgh swept one at PNC Park on Sept. 19, 2004. The Bucs have won nine in a row against the Mets for the first time in franchise history; they had four separate eight-game winning streaks.
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 long-awaited Major League debut after being called up from Triple-A Indianapolis. The right-hander, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 Draft and the Pirates' No. 4 prospect, has fought his way back from two years of injuries, compiling a 4-2 record and 2.04 ERA in 10 starts this season.