By Troy Provost-Heron and Joshua Needelman
NEW YORK -- After busting out of a six-plus-week offensive slump by tallying 11 runs on Wednesday, the Mets' offense continued surging Thursday. Bartolo Colon sparked a four-run third inning with a double, and the Mets launched three home runs to take a 6-4 victory in their rubber match against the Pirates at Citi Field.
"We've just made better contact," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "We're hitting the ball around the field a little bit better, we're putting the ball in play a little bit more and we're not striking out as much.
"Whenever you put the ball in play, it has a chance to find a hole, and I think that has been a big difference the last two nights."
Curtis Granderson got things going in the first with his sixth leadoff home run of the season. Neil Walker added three RBIs in his return to the lineup, including a two-run home run in the third that was followed immediately with another home run by Michael Conforto.
Colon fired seven shutout innings before Matt Joyce slugged his 100th career home run and Josh Harrison delivered an RBI single in the eighth to put a blemish on the right-hander's winning line.
Juan Nicasio was hit hard for the second consecutive outing, giving up six runs over 4 1/3 innings after allowing six runs in an inning of relief on Friday.
"The numbers, there is a split, no doubt -- the left-handers have challenged him," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "With the power tonight, it was a lack of execution getting the ball where we needed to get it. The mistakes were actually down and down and in tonight, the sweet spots of hitters' swings."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Welcome back: Walker (back) and Conforto (left wrist) both returned after three-game absences from the Mets' starting lineup and contributed in a big way. Conforto started with a spectacular diving catch in the first that kept a run off the board. Then the duo went on to launch back-to-back home runs -- the eighth time the Mets have done so this season -- in the third off Nicasio to extend New York's lead to 5-0. Walker later capped the Mets' scoring with an RBI double in the fifth. More >
Déjà vu: A day after Jeff Locke gave up seven earned runs in four innings, Nicasio followed with another unsuccessful start. He lasted a bit longer but still surrendered six earned runs on seven hits, two walks and a hit-by-pitch. Jameson Taillon began the series with a gem Tuesday night, but the poor outings by Locke and Nicasio proved too much for the Pirates' offense to overcome.
Keep on rolling: Harrison tallied a leadoff single against Colon to start the game, but from that point on the 43-year-old right-hander was able to shut down the Pirates. Pittsburgh recorded just four hits over the first seven innings before striking for two runs on three hits in the eighth. Thursday marked the fifth consecutive start that Colon has allowed two runs or fewer, lowering his ERA from 3.75 to 3.01 over that stretch.
"He's a stabilizing factor," Collins said. "As our young guys try to get themselves going, he's just so consistent. He does the same thing night after night. … It's truly amazing.
"You talk about some of the 43-year-olds who have pitched in baseball, they were knuckleballers and off-speed guys, and this guy goes with a fastball. He's a unique animal and he does it with an air of confidence."
McCutchen moving in right direction: It didn't result in a run, but McCutchen's fourth-inning double held importance for the Pirates. The hit was McCutchen's first of the series and first in five games. He later singled in the seventh and homered in the ninth, marking his first multihit game since the first game of a doubleheader on June 7. More >
"I was on time for the most part. I was able to make adjustments," McCutchen said. "That's something I haven't been doing lately. I haven't been adjusting in my at-bats."
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
With his home run to kick things off in the first, Granderson recorded his 17th leadoff homer with the Mets, breaking the franchise record that was held by Jose Reyes.
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates: Left-hander Francisco Liriano (4-6, 4.92 ERA) will lead the Pirates into a three-game set against the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Friday afternoon at 2:20 p.m. ET. He's coming off a loss against the Cardinals in which he allowed four runs (one earned).
Mets:Matt Harvey (4-8, 4.66 ERA) will take the mound when the Mets open a three-game series against the Braves on Friday at 7:10 p.m. ET at Citi Field. The right-hander has gone 1-1 over his last three starts, allowing just two runs in 20 innings while striking out 17.