Jacob deGrom is a freak and Max Scherzer is a master, fully in charge at all times. Chris Bassitt’s game, by comparison, does not lend itself to much superlative, yet the right-hander, whose fastball merely lives in the low-to-mid-90s, has been the most reliable Mets starter throughout this season.
The overlooked and quietly overpowering No. 3 pitcher silenced the Pirates for six solid innings in the Mets’ 5-1 victory in front of 40,111 at Citi Field on Saturday night. Bassitt has set a career high in starts, with 28, and only appears to be gaining strength.
With the victory, the Mets (92-55) remained one game clear of the Braves, who beat the Phillies on Saturday.
Since being swept by the Cubs, the Mets have won three straight against the Pirates going into the series finale Sunday, which will end a streak of 16 straight games against sub-.500 opponents. The Mets, who have gone a disappointing 8-7 in the stretch, will visit Milwaukee beginning Monday.
They can thank their pitching staff for the rebound in this series, in which they have held the Pirates to five runs in three games. Bassitt, an encouraging David Peterson and Adam Ottavino combined for 12 strikeouts Saturday.
Bassitt, who surrendered three hits and walked two while striking out eight, toyed with Pirates batters just two nights after he had what he called a “24-hour stomach thing” that he said “knocked me on my butt pretty good.”
The Mets sent Bassitt home, and manager Buck Showalter was not sure what he would receive from him Saturday. But Bassitt drank plenty of fluids, felt good enough to pitch and battled through six sparkling frames.
“We call them ride-back guys,” Showalter said after the Mets won their 49th home game this season, tied with the 2015 Mets for the most wins at Citi Field. “You’ve seen those Westerns where they’re running away from somebody, and one guy gets shot off the horse? Everybody keeps going, and one guy always rides back and helps the guy out.
“Chris Bassitt is one of those ride-back guys.”
Bassitt reached another gear when needed, limiting Pittsburgh to 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position. This year, opponents are hitting just .217 in such situations against the 33-year-old.
The Pirates’ best threat came in the top of the sixth, when Rodolfo Castro singled, Ben Gamel walked and the two reached second and third on a two-out wild pitch. But Bassitt kept Ke’Bryan Hayes off balance, and the Pirates slugger swung late on a 92-mph sinker before whiffing far too early on a pair of slow curveballs.
“Overall, I feel fantastic,” said Bassitt, who has a 3.32 ERA in a career-high 171 innings. “Hopefully the year goes the way we want it to go and I go way through 200 innings. But overall, I feel really, really good with where I’m at right now.”
The Mets’ offense mostly consisted of a two-out, three-run home run by Eduardo Escobar in the second inning. Escobar’s 18th homer of the season, drilled to right field, was also his sixth in his past 15 games, part of a well-timed revival for the third baseman, who is 22-for-53 (.415) in that span.
The Mets added two runs on a pair of bases-loaded walks to Brandon Nimmo and Pete Alonso.
After Nimmo walked in the sixth, Francisco Lindor grounded out. After Alonso walked in the eighth, Tyler Naquin struck out, which was a recurring problem for the Mets.
Escobar’s homer was the only hit for the Mets with runners in scoring position. They went 1-for-12 and left 12 on base in a game they couldn’t crack open. They were unable to make Pittsburgh pay for walking eight hitters and hitting Mets batters four times — which brought the Mets’ season total to 101 hit-by-pitches, the sixth team since 1900 to be plunked 100 or more times.
Bassitt and the Mets’ bullpen shut the door anyway.
Peterson, in his first relief outing since he transitioned out of the rotation, needed just 21 pitches (notably 16 strikes) for a perfect seventh and eighth innings.
On Peterson’s first pitch of the ninth, Castro stroked a home run to right-center for the Mets’ only pitching blemish. Peterson then struck out Gamel to finish off a solid 2 ¹/₃ inning outing, before Ottavino recorded the final two outs.
Peterson, who is adjusting to his new role, with Scherzer expected to take his starting spot Monday, struck out four and looked like an enticing lefty option for a Mets club that has beek seeking one.
“Obviously, with the guys we have in the starting rotation, we couldn’t ask for much more,” Peterson said. “You look up and down, and there’s five really good pitchers.
“I think the most exciting thing is being able to contribute in a different way and help this team win.”
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