Michael Conforto saves Mets from total disaster vs. Pirates

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These Mets’ big nights were wasted

PITTSBURGH — A bad weekend against an underwhelming opponent was on the brink of worsening for the Mets as Sunday’s ninth inning dawned.

But one of the quietest bats in the lineup had one last shot remaining in it, allowing manager Luis Rojas’ crew to save face before leaving town, long after Rojas had been tossed from the game. Michael Conforto cleared the center-field fence with a two-run homer, capping a methodical comeback and 7-6 victory over the Pirates at PNC Park.

The Mets, who lost two of three games in the series and went 3-4 against the Pirates in seven games that wrapped around the All-Star break, rallied from a six-run deficit in the first inning on the strength of a strong bullpen performance and gritty offensive attack.

Conforto’s homer against Pirates closer Richard Rodriguez was only his third of the season. He had been hitless in his previous three at-bats before connecting.

The Mets’ road doesn’t get easier: They open a three-game series Monday in Cincinnati with two openings in the rotation that must be filled. Jerad Eickhoff is likely to start one of the games, with it possible the Mets will go the bullpen route or dip into Triple-A Syracuse for the other starter.

Taijuan Walker recorded only one out Sunday and was removed after the Pirates had taken a 6-0 lead. With the bases loaded, Kevin Newman’s squib along the third-base line was swatted toward the dugout by Walker, who believed the ball was foul. Plate umpire Jeremy Riggs ruled the ball fair, and all three Pirates on base kept running and scored as Walker argued.

An irate Rojas was immediately ejected and had to be restrained from going after Riggs. It was by far the most anger Rojas has shown in his two seasons managing the team. Bench coach Dave Jauss managed the rest of the game.

Walker’s nightmare inning started with Bryan Reynolds’ RBI single after Wilmer Difo stroked a one-out double. Ben Gamel walked and John Nogowski’s two-run double put the Mets in a 3-0 hole. Newman’s dribbler along the third-base line followed.

Walker, who represented the Mets at the All-Star game last week, moved into the rotation a day early after Jacob deGrom was removed from consideration for the start because of right forearm tightness. The Mets placed deGrom on the injured list before the game, weakening an already thin rotation.

Travis Blankenhorn’s first major league homer, a three-run blast in the fourth, got the Mets back in the game, slicing their deficit to 6-4. Jonathan Villar and Tomas Nido each singled to begin the rally before Blankenhorn crushed a 91 mph fastball from JT Brubaker over the fence in right-center.

Dominic Smith’s double in the sixth allowed Jeff McNeil to score another run, on Gregory Polanco’s throwing error, that pulled the Mets within 6-5.

The Mets began their comeback in the third on Smith’s two-out RBI single. Brandon Nimmo walked to begin the rally before McNeil singled.

Drew Smith gave the Mets 2 ²/₃ innings of shutout relief behind Walker. Aaron Loup loaded the bases in the sixth with nobody out, but struck out the next three batters to keep the Mets’ deficit at 6-5. The lefty Loup pitched two scoreless innings in lowering his ERA to 1.48.

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