Chris Archer rocked in 1st inning; Mets hold off Pirates rally for sweep
NEW YORK — Michael Conforto sparked New York’s offense with a two-run homer in a six-run first inning against Chris Archer, and the Mets held on to beat the reeling Pittsburgh Pirates, 8-7, on Sunday to match their longest winning streak this season at four games.
Jason Vargas (6-5) won a third straight start for the first time since last August, and the Mets completed a three-game sweep. The Mets improved to 10-5 since the All-Star break, passing Cincinnati, Colorado and the Pirates in the National League standings. The Mets (50-55) started the day six games back in the NL wild-card race with six teams in front.
“I think we’re starting to put it all together,” Conforto said after reaching 20 homers for the third straight season. “The break was big for us. We got our legs back under us.”
The Pirates were 2½ games off the NL Central lead at the break but have lost 14 of 16, including eight in a row.
“They’re fighting. We’re not winning, but we’re fighting,” manager Clint Hurdle said.
Given a 6-0 lead, Vargas allowed three runs and six hits in 52⁄3 innings. He could be dangled by the Mets ahead of Wednesday’s trade deadline along with fellow starters Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler.
Vargas, a 36-year-old left-hander, can become a free agent after the World Series unless his $8 million club option for next season is exercised. Wheeler can go free this fall, but Syndergaard is far more valuable. He can’t become a free agent until after the 2021 season.
Jacob deGrom, Wheeler and Steven Matz got the victories earlier in the Mets’ streak. New York starting pitchers had not won four straight games since Robert Gsellman, Matt Harvey, Seth Lugo and Rafael Montero in September 2017.
“I feel like we’re synching things up,” Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. “Our bullpen is performing. We’re scoring some runs consistently. Our starters have been outstanding, and that’s kind of the recipe for wins.”
The Mets led 8-3 in the ninth before Bryan Reynolds hit a two-run homer off Tyler Bashlor, and Jose Osuna hit a two-run drive against Edwin Diaz, who got the next two outs for his 23rd save in 27 chances.
Archer (3-8) allowed five hits and four walks in five innings, raising his ERA to 5.58. He is 0-3 in his last nine starts, 0-4 on the road this season and has allowed 25 home runs, second in the major leagues to 28 off Houston ace Justin Verlander. Archer is 28-47 since the start of 2016 after going 32-32 in his first four seasons.
He threw 48 pitches in the first, falling behind when Conforto hit an opposite-field drive to left. Todd Frazier, J.D. Davis and Amed Rosario had RBI singles, and Aaron Altherr added a sacrifice fly. The inning was prolonged when third baseman Jung Ho Kang failed to catch Archer’s throw on a bunt.
“I just came out extremely passive, wasn’t pitching like myself,” Archer said. “My stuff was flat, but it wasn’t a matter of my delivery. It was a matter of my mentality. Unacceptable.”
Altherr entered as a pinch hitter for Jeff McNeil, who was hit on the right shin by a pitch earlier in the inning.
Jacob Stallings hit a solo homer for the Pirates, who closed to 6-3 in the fifth inning but were hurt by a sloppy game that included three errors and three unearned runs.
Stallings appeared to lose track of outs while running the bases in the fourth, possibly costing a run. Osuna dropped a foul pop near first for an error. Reliever Francisco Liriano failed to cover first on Robinson Cano’s rounder to the right side, leading to an usual 3-6-4 double play, and two-time Gold Glove Starling Marte was charged with an error for failing to catch Conforto’s flyout in what became a two-run sixth.
“I’ve used before the Stockdale Paradox. You have to have a sense of reality, but you need to remain optimistic,” said Hurdle about how he motivates the team. “The harsh reality is we haven’t played well for two weeks. The optimism is, as I said, there’s been six games that we could have won along the way, and that flips the record with one hit or one well-placed out.”