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Baxter's RBI in 9th lifts Mets

The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- Settling on a starting outfield has been a season-long challenge for New York Mets manager Terry Collins. Finding a "finisher" among his outfielders has been a far easier task.

Mike Baxter's pinch-hit RBI single in the ninth inning Thursday night -- his second walk-off pinch-hit single in three nights -- lifted the Mets to a 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citi Field.

"David [Wright] told me when the game was over, he said, 'Don't start [Baxter] another game - just keep saving him,'" Collins said.

The win was the third straight walk-off home win for the Mets and their fourth in 18 games at Citi Field this season. And their otherwise underwhelming outfielders - who entered Thursday hitting just .221 this season - have delivered the winning hit every time.

Baxter's RBI single in the 10th inning gave the Mets a 1-0 win over the White Sox Tuesday, when the Mets became just the third team in the modern era to allow only one baserunner in a 10-inning game.

Jordany Valdespin hit a grand slam in the 10th inning of a 7-3 win over the Dodgers on April 24, and Marlon Byrd, who scored the winning run Thursday, laced a two-run single in the ninth inning of a 4-3 win over the Marlins on April 7.

"I'd like to win it a lot sooner," Byrd said with a laugh. "But it's nice to have a team that can battle and know that we always have a fighting chance in the end."

Baxter's tendency to deliver in a pinch - at any point in the game - continues to wow Collins. Baxter is now hitting .375 (18-for-48) with 12 RBIs as a pinch-hitter.

"This guy comes off the bench with a plan, something in his mind, and he executes it," Collins said. "It's really amazing, because that is one tough job. And for a young guy to do it as well as he does, it is truly remarkable."

Baxter is known for his patience at the plate when he starts a game - five of his 11 starts this year have come in the leadoff spot - but he takes a decidedly more aggressive approach as a pinch-hitter. His game-winning hit Thursday came on the second pitch from Jason Grilli, while his game-winner on Tuesday came on the third pitch.

"You're just trying to get a good pitch to hit, early or late in the count, whenever it is," Baxter said. "Off the bench, you want to make sure you're not taking."

Mets outfielders didn't just contribute with the bat in the ninth inning Thursday. Baxter was hitting for rookie center fielder Juan Lagares, who preserved the 2-2 tie in the top of the ninth by robbing Andrew McCutchen of what appeared to be a sure-fire, go-ahead double -- and possibly a two-run homer -- with a leaping catch at the wall to end the inning. The ball was at the orange line as Lagares made the catch.

"That was huge, that made the game," Baxter said. "It looked like he robbed a home run from McCutchen. If he doesn't do that, we might not be here talking."

Byrd, who drove in the Mets' first run with a second-inning sacrifice fly, began the winning rally with an infield single off Grilli (0-1). Second baseman Brandon Inge dove for the ball, but it trickled off his glove and Byrd beat the throw by a step.

Adrew Brown, who was making just his third start of the season in the outfield, followed with a sacrifice to bring up Baxter, who made a winner out of Bobby Parnell (4-0) with a single up the middle that easily scored Byrd.

The starting outfield of Byrd, Lagares and Brown finished 3-for-8 with two runs scored. Byrd, Lagares and Baxter are three of the five outfielders who have made at least six starts for the Mets as Collins searches for offense from someone other than Lucas Duda, who sat out Thursday but started 28 of the Mets' first 30 games in left field.

Ike Davis had an RBI double in the seventh to give the Mets a 2-1 lead.

Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez snapped an 0-for-15 skid with a fourth-inning single and delivered both Pirates runs with a sixth-inning sacrifice fly and a long solo homer in the eighth.

McCutchen and Jose Tabata had two hits apiece for the Pirates.

"Gotta brush these off," Inge said. "We played good, played really well, so did they. It was just a game [where] both [teams] kind of grinded it out."

Mets starter Dillon Gee allowed one run on five hits and two walks while striking out three in five-plus innings. For the Pirates, Jeff Locke allowed one run on three hits and three walks while striking out three in six innings.

NOTES: Mets reliever Frank Francisco threw a scoreless inning for Class A St. Lucie on Wednesday night -- his third scoreless outing in a span of four days -- but general manager Sandy Alderson said Francisco will remain on a rehab assignment for the time being. Francisco has been on the disabled list with right elbow inflammation all season. ... Collins defended the human element in umpiring Thursday afternoon, less than 24 hours after umpires in Cleveland cost Oakland the tying run in the ninth inning by mistakenly ruling Adam Rosales' home run a double. "Pretty soon this game's going to be played by robots and we'll all be watching," Collins said. ... Pirates catcher Russell Martin returned to the lineup after missing two games with a stiff neck and Tabata missed his sixth straight start with a sore left hamstring. ... Alvarez entered the game in a 2-of-26 slump.
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