The Mets try once again to clinch the NL East and look to avoid a surprising sweep when they wrap up their three-game series with the Pirates on Sunday.
New York’s magic number to clinch the division remains one for the third straight day after the Mets (90-57) lost their second consecutive game to Pittsburgh, 3-2 on Saturday night. New York could have backed into the playoffs if second-place Philadelphia had lost, but the Phillies won 7-2 at Houston.
The next Mets win or Phillies loss will secure New York’s first division crown since it won the NL East with a 100-60 record in 1988.
“It’s a matter of time. It’s inevitable,” Mets manager Willie Randolph said. “We’d like to get it done sooner or later. Who knows the way things work out? We still get to go home (Monday), so we might get it done there. But we will try to get it done (Sunday). We will.”
Pirates catcher Ronny Paulino doubled to the left-center field gap off Mets reliever Aaron Heilman in the bottom of the ninth Saturday, scoring Joe Randa with the winning run. Pittsburgh (62-87) has won four of its last five games and is 32-27 since the All-Star break—the best record in the NL Central.
“This is great,” said Pirates reliever Matt Capps, who earned the win Saturday after recording two outs in the top of the ninth. “With them needing one win to clinch it and knowing that and not wanting to see them do it at our place … just the excitement all through the team and clubhouse is fun. I was really pumped. It’s been a great atmosphere to play in the last two nights.”
As the Mets try to avoid a third consecutive defeat, they send Steve Trachsel (14-7, 5.17 ERA) to the mound seeking to prevent a three-game skid of his own. Trachsel went 12-1 in an 18-start stretch from May 23-Aug. 29, but has allowed eight runs in just seven total innings to lose both of his September outings.
“It’s something mechanical I’m doing, something that’s causing me to miss pitches or miss location,” Trachsel said after giving up four runs, five hits and two walks in 2 2-3 innings of last Sunday’s 9-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The right-hander has an impressive 3.16 ERA in 16 career starts against Pittsburgh, but only a 5-8 record to show for it.
Pittsburgh counters with Zach Duke (9-13, 4.68), who appears to be recapturing the form that produced an 8-2 record and 1.41 ERA in 14 starts as a rookie last season. The left-hander, who has lowered his ERA from a season-high 5.51 on July 24, limited Milwaukee to two runs and five hits in eight innings of a 4-3 victory Monday.
Duke has pitched through the sixth inning in each of his last nine outings. He faced New York twice last season, going 1-0 and allowing four runs over 12 1-3 innings.
The Pirates have not swept a three-game series with the Mets at home since June 1-3, 1998 at Three Rivers Stadium.