PITTSBURGH — The second half of the season was off and running Friday night — but not in a good direction for the NL East’s first-place team.
Francisco Lindor’s grimace on a swing in the fifth inning, which forced him from the game, was just the start. Before long, benches were emptying at PNC Park, giving the Mets an opportunity for swings resulting in solid contact. None occurred, continuing a theme for the Mets, who managed only three hits in a 4-1 loss to the Pirates.
The biggest imminent concern is Lindor, who reached for his right side after hitting a ground ball to first base, on which he remained in the batter’s box. He was replaced by Luis Guillorme at shortstop for the bottom of the fifth and will receive further evaluation Saturday. According to the Mets he departed with right-side soreness.
Then came the fireworks. After John Nogowski lined out to end the fifth, he began jawing with Mets starter Marcus Stroman, who yelled at the Pirates first baseman as he walked toward him. Catcher James McCann got between Nogowski and Stroman, while both benches and bullpens emptied. Shoving ensued, but no punches were thrown and Stroman hunched over with his hands on his knees before sprinting off the field.
Nogowski may have been reacting to Stroman pounding his glove to celebrate the final out of the inning, which left Bryan Reynolds stranded at third base.
It was the second time this season benches emptied following a Stroman exchange with a player. On June 1, Stroman retired the Diamondbacks’ Josh Rojas to end the fifth inning and the two got into a heated exchange, prompting both teams to go onto the field. Rojas later said Stroman was trying to fire up the Diamondbacks, who started a rally against Stroman the following inning.
On Friday, Stroman allowed two runs on eight hits over five innings, and he departed after 92 pitches. The right-hander wasn’t sharp, but managed to keep the Mets in the game.
Wilmer Difo greeted Stroman’s replacement, Drew Smith, with a homer leading off the sixth that extended the Pirates’ lead to 3-1. Reynolds homered against Jeurys Familia in the seventh to give the Pirates their final run.
The Pirates are anchored to the NL Central basement, but have been a nuisance to the Mets, who have lost three of the five games between the teams this season. Included was 6-5 gut-punch by the Pirates on Sunday at Citi Field, in which Edwin Diaz allowed two runs in the ninth inning.
On Friday, the Mets went 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position and managed just one hit after the second inning.
Stroman allowed two runs in a rocky second inning, which included a 30-minute rain delay. With the bases loaded and one out in a scoreless game, play was halted by heavy rain. When action resumed, Stroman retired Chad Kuhl, but surrendered a two-run single to Adam Frazier. Ke’Bryan Hayes followed with a single for the Pirates’ fifth hit of the inning, but Stroman struck out Reynolds to contain the damage.
The Mets broke through with a run in the fourth, ending an 11-inning scoreless streak against the Pirates. Pete Alonso drew a leadoff walk and Jeff McNeil reached on shortstop Kevin Newman’s error before Jonathan Villar, with one out, got the run home from third on a ground out.
Alonso and McNeil had reached base in succession to begin the second, but were left stranded. In the third, Stroman and Nimmo walked to begin the inning, but Kuhl got Lindor to hit into a double play before Dominic Smith struck out.