Collins said he did not check each night to see if the second-place Washington Nationals have lost, which they have been doing a lot of lately. He plans only a few days forward, such as for this week’s series at Baltimore and Colorado, but not for possible postseason games, with their comeback rallies, defensive gems and a home crowd that rarely sits down.
“I’ve learned you can’t look very far forward,” Collins said on Saturday afternoon before the Mets fell, 5-3, in 14 innings to the Pittsburgh Pirates in a game that had many elements of October baseball.
Perhaps it’s a sound strategy by Collins to refrain from playing the soothsayer. Saturday’s loss dropped the Mets to 0-5 against the Pirates this season, and it was their second straight extra-inning defeat. The Mets are 7-19 against all the National League division and wild-card leaders.
“We played hard, we played well,” Collins said. “We get the homestand off to a good start, you lose two extra-inning games, it’s tough.”
The Pirates jumped out to an early lead on Jon Niese, who had pitched as well as any of the Mets’ starters since the beginning of June.
Entering Saturday, Niese had lowered his E.R.A. by almost a full run in that span and delivered quality starts in 11 of his last 12 outings (the one blip came on the day that Niese’s wife was in labor).
Last week, after the Mets swept the Rockies in a four-game series at Citi Field, the Colorado All-Star Nolan Arenado praised the Mets for having four No. 1 pitchers.
It’s not surprising to hear such talk about three of those starters — Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard — but the fourth ace implied by Arenado was Niese, who pitches consistently but not in the overpowering fashion of his cohorts.
Collins attributed Niese’s recent string of success to his ability to register outs early in the count and avoid home runs.
He was unable to do either over the first three innings on Saturday.
In the first inning, Aramis Ramirez swung on the first pitch he saw and clocked his first home run since being traded to the Pirates from the Milwaukee Brewers on July 23, putting Niese in an early 2-0 hole. Two innings later, Gregory Polanco launched a solo home run off the right-field foul pole on a first-pitch curveball.
Niese nearly lost his composure after Ramirez’s homer.
The previous batter, Andrew McCutchen, had taken a close pitch with two strikes that was called a ball, and he eventually walked. Niese, believing the inning should have been over, vehemently argued with the home-plate umpire, Bob Davidson.
“I think Jon thought he had a strikeout, for sure, and then Ramirez jumped all over the next pitch,” Collins said. “That was certainly two big pitches in the game right there.”
Niese did not allow the Pirates to score again and departed after the sixth inning with another quality start, having given up five hits and striking out five.
The Mets responded in the seventh, when Juan Uribe led off with a home run to center field, and Michael Conforto launched a two-run home run into right field to tie the score at 3-3.
The bullpen blanked the Pirates for seven innings, backed by deft defense. In the ninth, Sean Rodriguez doubled to left-center field. As the ball caromed against the wall, Rodriguez tried to stretch the hit into a triple, but Yoenis Cespedes nailed him at third with an off-balance laser throw from near the warning track.
Collins said he had never seen a comparable throw.
“We all heard he’s got a great arm, and boy, he showed it on that play,” Collins said. “What an accurate throw from way out there. They say he’s special and we’re seeing lots of signs of it.”
As fine as Cespedes’s throw was, it was ultimately overshadowed by a defensive lapse that doomed the Mets in the 14th. Francisco Cervelli doubled to open the inning, and Starling Marte reached on a fielder’s choice when Daniel Murphy fielded a chopper to first but then questionably tried to throw out Cervelli, who was safe at third. After Pedro Florimon was called in to pinch-run for Cervelli, singles by Rodriguez and Chris Stewart drove in the two runs that proved the difference.
After missing four straight games, LUCAS DUDA pinch-hit in the 12th inning. Duda said before the game he hoped to return full time for a series with the Baltimore Orioles beginning Tuesday. …STEVEN MATZ threw 23 pitches in one inning for Class A Port St. Lucie in his first start since being placed on the disabled list July 6 with a partly torn left lateral muscle. Matz allowed one earned run on three hits and struck out two batters. In the same game, DAVID WRIGHT played third base for seven innings and finished 0 for 3 with a walk and a run scored.