NEW YORK -- A fickle National League Wild Card race took another turn on Tuesday afternoon, when the Cardinals beat Noah Syndergaard and the Mets, 3-2, in the first game of a twinight doubleheader at Citi Field. That allowed St. Louis to leapfrog the Mets at least temporarily in the NL standings, in what was the first of six meetings between the teams this season.
Jedd Gyorko smashed a two-run homer off Syndergaard, who needed 115 pitches to complete six innings, and the Cardinals eked out another run on a pair of infield hits and a Syndergaard throwing error.
"I just think the Cardinals did a really good job of getting my pitch count high," Syndergaard said. "It was a series of unfortunate events. I was trying to last as long as I could out there."
The Mets couldn't muster enough offense to counter that output, despite making Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez throw 106 pitches in five innings. Rene Rivera was the only one to break through for the Mets, hitting a two-run homer in the fourth.
"Carlos was rolling early, and you watched both guys stretching their pitch count -- on a day like today, you're going to have to," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "[Martinez] kept us in it. … Zeros are impressive, I don't care how many pitches it takes. You have to win every game you get a chance at."
With less than 10 weeks remaining in the regular season, the Mets and Cardinals were among four teams bunched within 1 1/2 games of each other for the second NL Wild Card spot at the start of Tuesday's play, all of them chasing the Wild Card-leading Dodgers.
"I don't know how many times I've got to say it: This is crunch time," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "This is the time we've got to win games."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Gyorko keeps going: Gyorko got the Cardinals' offense going, launching a Syndergaard sinker 412 feet to left field, according to Statcast™. The blast was Gyorko's 13th of the season and continued what has been a productive July for the third baseman, during which he has hit .327 (18-for-55) with six home runs and 13 RBIs.
"He's amazing and he's doing a great job," Matheny said. "He's an interesting player. I don't think people realize how good of a player he is."
Stay right there: The Mets left the bases loaded against Martinez in the third inning, but it didn't necessarily have to be that way. With Jose Reyes on first base and one out, Yoenis Cespedes boomed a double to right-center that hopped off the wall and right to Tommy Pham. That allowed Pham to hustle the ball back toward the infield, where Mets third-base coach Tim Teufel was in the process of throwing up the stop sign for Reyes. The Mets wound up stranding him there.
"I'm not going to get into the coaching stuff," Collins said when asked if he would have liked Teufel to send Reyes.
Right-handed rarities: Entering his 19th start of the season, right-handed hitters had slugged just .185 against Martinez, but the Mets' right-handed hitters had some success at the plate. In the third inning, Cespedes doubled to right-center and in the fourth, Rivera was able to jump on a 96-mph fastball, sending it to the seats in left. The two extra-base hits tripled the total Martinez had allowed to righties this season, from one to three. The home run was the first homer he has allowed to a right-handed hitter this season and the first since Khris Davis back on Sept. 15, 2015, at Miller Park.
Making it a game: The Mets finally did something with their traffic on the basepaths when Rivera launched a two-run homer off Martinez in the fourth. Prior to that, the Mets had stranded five men on base over the game's first three innings; they went on to leave four more on the basepaths in the fourth, fifth and sixth.
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Syndergaard's 115 pitches in six innings matched his season high, falling one short of his career high from last season. That's notable considering he left his final start before the All-Star break due to arm fatigue, and is pitching through a bone spur in his right elbow.
"It's a product of us playing a number of games in a row, and [not wanting to] blow your bullpen out in the first game of a doubleheader," Collins said. "That was part of the process."
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
The Cardinals seemed to have a rally cooking when Pham and Greg Garcia pulled off what appeared to be a double steal with one out in the fourth. But a 70-second review overturned the call, with Pham being ruled out at third base.
Half an inning later, Collins won another challenge, contending that Asdrubal Cabrera had been hit by a pitch on his foot. That put him on first base to lead off the bottom of the fourth.
WHAT'S NEXT Cardinals:Jaime Garcia (7-6, 3.98 ERA) will take the mound in the second game of the doubleheader Tuesday, which is scheduled to start immediately following the first game. In five career starts against the Mets, he is 2-1 with a 1.29 ERA, the lowest mark against any opponent he's faced in his career.
Mets: The Mets transition from their youngest starting pitcher to their oldest when Bartolo Colon takes the mound in Game 2 at Citi Field.