NEW YORK -- The Pirates played their strongest hand in the late innings Thursday night against the New York Mets. Set-up man Mark Melancon took the eighth, closer Jason Grilli the ninth, though the score was tied. Both have been spectacular.
"Those are our guys," third baseman Pedro Alvarez said.
The Mets capitalized despite Grilli's dominance this season. Mike Baxter's pinch-hit single in the ninth inning sent the Pirates to a 3-2 loss against the Mets at Citi Field.
Marlon Byrd reached against Grilli on an infield single. Andrew Brown bunted him to second before Baxter singled to center.
Grilli (0-1) took the loss.
Pirates vs. New York Mets, 7:10 p.m., Citi Field, New York.
- TV, Radio:
Root Sports, KDKA-FM (93.7).
LHP Wandy Rodriguez (2-2, 4.02) vs. RHP Shaun Marcum (0-2, 7.20).
- Key matchup:
Marcum vs. the Pirates' corner infielders. Pedro Alvarez and Garrett Jones are a combined 8 for 24 (.333) against him.
- Hidden stat:
Marcum has a 2.65 ERA in six career starts against the Pirates.
"We wanted Melancon pitching to the leverage part of the order," said manager Clint Hurdle, who early this season has opted against using Grilli and Melancon in tie games. "Our guys were rested. We wanted to take that shot."
Jeff Locke has allowed five runs, four earned, in his past four starts, a span of 24 innings. Four of those runs came in one outing, a start May 4 against the Washington Nationals. For a staff that lost James McDonald to the disabled list and is in the process of shifting from Jonathan Sanchez to Jeanmar Gomez to Francisco Liriano and eventually Charlie Morton, that stability helps.
"Today he was very effective," Hurdle said. "With all those right-handers in the lineup, one left-handed hitter. The first-pitch strike count was excellent."
Locke assembled his third good outing in four starts, the only blemish being the three walks he allowed through six innings. He held the Mets to three hits, all in the second inning, and one run. He retired 13 of the final 15 batters he faced.
The Pirates accomplished little against Mets starter Dillon Gee for the first five innings. They finally pushed a run across in the sixth when they loaded the bases against him with no outs, but the bullpen limited the damage.
Gee allowed one run on five hits in five-plus innings.
Ike Davis, a left-handed batter, did not start against the left-handed Locke. He entered the game on a double-switch in the seventh. He hit .152 against left-handers in 33 at-bats entering the game and .211 against them in his career.
But when he came up against left-hander Tony Watson in the seventh with a man on first, he stroked a double to the warning track. The ball bounced in front of a sliding Andrew McCutchen and scored the go-ahead run from first.
Alvarez answered in the top of the eighth and tied the score. He drove a 1-0 fastball from LaTroy Hawkins over the wall in right-center field for his sixth home run of the season.
McCutchen smacked a ball to the center-field wall in the top of the ninth that would have scored Jordy Mercer from first, but Juan Lagares caught the ball near the top of the wall to end the inning.
John Buck and Justin Turner hit consecutive singles to start the second inning, but McCutchen threw out Turner as he tried to stretch his into a double. Byrd's fly ball scored Buck from third. Travis Snider's throw sailed over home plate as the Mets took a 1-0 lead.
Brown walked and Lagares singled with two outs, but Gee popped out to end the inning. Locke put four men on base and threw 26 pitches in the second inning but held the Mets to one run.
The Pirates tied the score in the sixth, but could have done much more damage.
McCutchen led off with a single. He ran on a pitch to Garrett Jones, and Jones pulled the ball through the hole on the right side of the infield to put runners on first and third.
Gee hit Russell Martin to load the bases, at which point Mets manager Terry Collins removed Gee in favor of Brandon Lyon. Alvarez's sacrifice fly scored McCutchen. Brandon Inge popped out and Clint Barmes grounded out to end the inning.
The Pirates had another opportunity in the seventh. Jose Tabata pinch-hit for Locke, who was due to lead off the inning, and singled. Starling Marte bunted him to second.
After a pitching change and pinch-hit to arrange the matchups, Gaby Sanchez flied out and Jones struck out against the left-handed Scott Rice to end the inning.
"I couldn't have asked for a better matchup in my mind, left-hander to Sanchez," Hurdle said.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published May 10, 2013 2:30 AM