By Anthony DiComo
NEW YORK — One could see fairly clearly, during various points of the Mets’ 4-3 win over the Pirates on Friday night, how this might all look in October. A strong starting pitching performance. A home run and a hit-and-run. Pinch-runner Terrance Gore stealing a base in a key spot. Edwin Díaz locking down a five-out save.
If the Mets hope not only to earn a playoff spot, but also to advance deep into the playoffs, they will need those types of contributions — the little ones, the important ones — more often than not. And they will need them against some of the National League’s best teams.
Though the Pirates may not meet that qualifier, Pittsburgh did present enough of a challenge for Friday’s win to remain competitive until the end, with quite a few moments of import at Citi Field.
The Mets were already leading by a run in the fourth inning when Daniel Vogelbach stepped to the plate and launched an opposite-field homer over the fence in left-center. It was the first home run since Aug. 22 for Vogelbach, who went 54 plate appearances between them.
When the Mets acquired Vogelbach and Darin Ruf before the Aug. 2 Trade Deadline, they envisioned those two forming a potent enough platoon to rival some of the better designated hitters in the game. For a short while, their vision was realized, until both Vogelbach and Ruf fell into deep slumps in late August.
Recently, though, Vogelbach has re-emerged, racking up three hits, two extra-base hits and four RBIs over his last two games against his ex-team, the Pirates. It’s not a large enough sample size to proclaim Vogelbach, er, back, but it’s certainly enough to give the Mets hope.
“Hitting’s hard,” Vogelbach said. “I wish I would have had 20 homers over the last three weeks. You always can learn from the good, but you really can learn from the bad.”
When the Mets ask Jeff McNeil to play right field, he says, there’s a brief adjustment period — particularly at Citi, which features one of the quirkier wall alignments in the game. But anyone who watched McNeil on Friday would have a tough time believing it’s not his natural position.
With two men on base in the fifth inning of a one-run game, Oneil Cruz hit a high fly ball that didn’t initially appear destined for the seats, but that eventually pushed McNeil onto the warning track. As the ball threatened to carry right over McNeil’s head, he leapt to snare it, letting loose a little emotion as he did.
“In the beginning, I thought it was just a fly ball,” Cruz said. “I saw that it kept continuing to travel, and then right away, I was like, ‘Oh man, that might be going out.’ When I saw him snatch it, I was like, ‘Man, just a little bit more and I would have been able to get a home run off of that.’”
It was not McNeil’s only notable catch. On the final play of the game, Cal Mitchell hit a similar shot to right, where McNeil had a somewhat easier time settling underneath it. Although Díaz thought the latter ball might be gone off the bat, McNeil corralled it without issue.
“The outfield for me is really fun,” said McNeil, a natural second baseman. “The ball goes in the air, I go catch it. That’s all there really is to it.”
Because the Mets had spent the previous two weeks vacillating between losses and blowout wins, Díaz had not seen a save chance in more than a fortnight when he relieved Mets starter Taijuan Walker with one out in the eighth after Cruz had hit a two-run homer.
Díaz, who is becoming accustomed to multi-inning save chances, faced no trouble for the rest of that inning. But in the ninth, after he issued a leadoff walk, pinch-runner Greg Allen appeared to steal second base. Only after consulting replay did umpires realize Luis Guillorme had blocked the base with his leg, buying himself enough time to grab Tomás Nido’s throw and tag Allen.
“I knew if I gave Guillorme a good shot of making a tag, that it was going to be very close,” Nido said. “I’m not surprised though that he was able to get the out.”
Moments later, Díaz nailed down the final two outs to conclude the Mets’ second consecutive win, dropping their magic number to clinch a playoff spot to 5.