NEW YORK -- The Pirates' chances of reaching the playoffs kept dwindling. At first, the odds on them doing so worsened slowly while the rest of the National League wild-card contenders struggled. Then, the decline picked up steam, and Wednesday night, at the hands of Jeremy Hefner, the Pirates' chances ended.
Hefner made official what had long been likely, dominating the Pirates in a 6-0 New York Mets win that mathematically eliminated the Pirates from postseason contention.
Hefner (3-7) allowed three hits over seven innings and struck out seven, which tied his career high. He did not record an out in his previous start, when he allowed seven runs on six hits and a walk in a 16-1 loss against the Philadelphia Phillies.
"He made pitches," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He had command of all his pitches. His changeup probably was [as] effective a weapon as he had."
The Pirates finished with three hits, none for extra bases.
"What we made hard on ourselves was, in the first eight innings, we had 24 outs to play with," Hurdle said. "We had 11 fly balls and eight punch-outs. That's 19 soft outs."
The Pirates fell to 76-79, 6-18 in September. They must win six of their final seven games to finish above .500. Today, they face knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (19-6), who is going for his 20th win and is a front-runner for the National League Cy Young Award.
Jeff Locke (0-3) allowed nine hits and five runs in 32/3 innings.
"It seems like the game really sped up on me," Locke said. "You got to know when you have the opportunity to put guys away. Those have got to be outs."
The Mets did most of their damage in the third. Ruben Tejada singled and stole second, scoring on Daniel Murphy's single. David Wright reached first on an infield hit, and Pedro Alvarez's throwing error allowed Murphy to score.
Scott Hairston doubled home a run, and Kelly Shoppach's single scored Hairston to give the Mets a 4-0 lead.
The Pirates have discussed shutting down Neil Walker for the rest of the season due to continued discomfort in his back, Hurdle said. Walker did not start for the second game in a row Wednesday.
"You don't want to not let a man play that wants to play, that's capable of playing," Hurdle said.
Walker has been in and out of the lineup recently as he copes with the pain in his back.
"I just know that when he does play, the next day he's not the same comfort level [as] the morning [of] the day he started," Hurdle said.
Starling Marte started Wednesday night after three days out of the starting lineup. Hurdle said Marte had minor discomfort in his knee after a slide in Houston, but his absence from the lineup also reflected Marte's performance.
"The at-bats got a little sloppy for me," Hurdle said.
Regarding the balance between giving a young prospect major league experience and rewarding good performance, Hurdle said: "I know from my perspective, I had it put to me pretty bluntly. You had to have an intense hunger to stay in the lineup. I'll get you in the lineup from time to time. It's your job to stay there."
Bill Brink: email@example.com and on Twitter@BrinkPG. First Published September 27, 2012 4:00 AM