The 36,418 fans at sold out PNC Park last night could have had their collective souls fixed on two things during the 2 hours, 31 minutes the Pirates played host to the National League East leading New York Mets:
• The will he/won't he saga that played out until midnight involving the signing of the Pirates' top draft pick, Pedro Alvarez.
• Or they might have been counting down the seconds until the SkyBlast fireworks shot from the barges floating in the Allegheny.
If their attention was diverted to either of those two -- or a mixture of both -- they missed an admirable effort by Pirates starter Jason Davis that was upstaged by even better outing by Mets' starter Mike Pelfrey. And all of it added up to a 2-1 Pirates loss.
Both Davis and Pelfrey pitched seven innings, and Davis allowed one fewer hit -- six ---- than Pelfrey.
But it was a rocky first inning that was all the Mets needed to make an indelible mark on Davis.
"I just left a couple of balls up," Davis said. "And they did what they were supposed to with them."
"The first three hitters of the game, he obviously wasn't on track," Pirates manager John Russell said. "After that, though, I thought he settled down nicely."
- Box score
- Game: Pirates vs. New York Mets, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
- TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Zach Duke (4-10, 5.10) vs. RHP Pedro Martinez (3-3, 5.37).
- Key matchup: Doug Mientkiewicz, who singled twice off Martinez Monday in New York, is 7 for 21 against him over his career.
- Of note: The Pirates' relievers have 27 wins this season, one fewer than the starters.
Nonetheless, those three batters were enough to send the Pirates to their 67th loss this season.
In his second start since being called up from Indianapolis, Davis lumbered through 23 first-inning pitches, and the Mets took a 2-0 lead on David Wright's RBI single and a wild pitch that allowed Argenis Reyes to trot home.
From there, as Russell said, Davis settled down, retiring the next eight Mets batters in order and not yielding another hit until the fifth.
"I had my confidence," said Davis, who fell to 1-2. "I was trying to overthrow early, but after that, I settled in and worked down in the zone."
There was one big problem, though.
For as well as Davis was throwing, his right-handed counterpart, Pelfrey, who raised his record to 11-8, was ultra-sharp from the outset.
Pelfrey didn't have that tough, early inning. Instead, he roared through the first five innings working ahead in the count, constructing an efficient effort wherein only one Pirate -- Jason Michaels in the fifth -- reached second base.
"He threw the ball well, he located his fastball extremely well," Russell said of Pelfrey.
Davis also offered praise for Pelfrey, saying, "You have to tip your hat sometimes to the other team. He pitched a heck of a game."
The Mets still held that 2-0 lead when former Pirate Duaner Sanchez relieved Pelfrey in the eighth. Jack Wilson sent Sanchez's fourth pitch into the left-field seats for his first home run of the season, a solo shot. But it wasn't enough to undo the Pirates' inability to pack much of an offensive punch in the other eight innings.
The Pirates frittered away prime opportunities in the sixth and seventh. In the sixth, Nate McLouth hit a flare down the right-field line to begin the inning and hustled into second for a leadoff double. Freddy Sanchez followed, blistering a groundball back at Pelfrey, who whirled to find McLouth hung up between second and third. McLouth was eventually tracked down for the first out, then Ryan Doumit hit into a 1-6-3 double play, turning what had been a no-out, man-on-second situation into another harmless inning.
In the seventh, Adam LaRoche collected his third single of the game, moved to second on a groundball out, but was thrown out by center fielder Carlos Beltran when he tried to score on a single up the middle by Brandon Moss.
"We haven't been scoring many runs lately," Russell said. "We haven't been getting many opportunities with less than two outs. It seems like all our opportunities now are coming with two outs and it has been tough to get that hit. We had opportunities, we were just one hit away."