Neil Walker helps New York Mets halt skid, top Pittsburgh Pirates

By Shelly Anderson, The Sports Xchange  |  May 26, 2017 at 11:53 PM
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PITTSBURGH -- New York Mets second baseman Neil Walker got his round of hugs on the field well before Friday night's game -- from his former manager, Clint Hurdle, and former teammates.

The Pittsburgh Pirates weren't necessarily as happy about Walker's visit to PNC Park a few hours later, after he went 3-for-5 with two home runs and four RBIs as the Mets clobbered Pittsburgh 8-1.

This is Walker's second season after being traded from his hometown and original club to the Mets, and he's finding the trip home is getting less stressful.

"I was able to kind of get ahead of things," Walker said. "I knew what to expect as far as kind of some of the off-the-field stuff. More than that, I was much less anxious probably than I was last year to just kind of get things going. It was a little easier than last year."

Walker eclipsed 500 career RBIs to stand at 501 and helped end his club's six-game road losing streak while also helping to end his original team's two-game winning streak.

Walker, from suburban Pittsburgh and a fan favoarite when he played here, followed his homers in the third and fifth with a bloop RBI single in the sixth that gave the Mets a 6-1 lead.

"April was tough for me this year and my timing got better at the end of April, early May. Just swinging it better," Walker said in something of an understatement.

In May, he's 30-of-85 (.353) with eight doubles, six homers and 18 RBIs.

"I've always enjoyed hitting in this ballpark, especially as a left-handed hitter," Walker said. "You can lift the ball and hit that wall or find a way over it."

New York tacked on two more that inning on Lucas Duda's double for an 8-1 lead. The Mets finished with 12 hits against four Pirates pitchers.

Mets starter Jacob deGrom (4-1) was two outs from pitching a complete game. In 8 1/3 innings, he gave up one run -- a homer by Gregory Polanco in the fourth -- and six hits, striking out 10 and walking one.

Eighty of deGrom's 118 pitches were strikes.

"This guy's got electric stuff," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "You could see the big velocity. He was pitching with power, he pitched with spin, he elevated when he wanted to, he used his breaking stuff.

"As good a game as we've had pitched against us. He hit spots all night long."

That was not the case for Pittsburgh starter Chad Kuhl (1-5), who allowed five runs and eight hits, including both Walker homers, in 4 1/3 innings, with three strikeouts and no walks.

"It just felt like there wasn't any life to the ball. Hard but no life to it really," Kuhl said. "Just inconsistent. They hit some good pitches. Just one of those nights."

The Mets took a 1-0 lead in the second on Duda's leadoff double off the right-field wall and, one out later, Curtis Granderson's RBI double to left-center field.

Walker upped the lead to 3-0 with a homer inside the right-field foul pole in the third.

Polanco, in his first game back from the disabled list, answered with his second homer, over the bleachers in right, to lead off the Pirates' fourth and make it 3-1.

"It was just good to have him back in the lineup," Pittsburgh's Josh Harrison said of Polanco. "Nobody likes to be on the DL. It was good for him to come back and get his feet wet but also show that he's in a good spot. It was very encouraging."

In the fifth, Jay Bruce's sacrifice fly to center brought home Jose Reyes, who led off with a triple to the wall in right center, for a 4-1 Mets lead. Walker followed with a homer to right to make it 5-1.

It marked Walker's fifth career multi-homer game and gave him his 500th RBI. It also chased Kuhl.

"First one he tried to come in and was able to just get out in front of it and get down the line," Walker said of his first homer. "Second one (I) just kind of grinded it out until it got to 3-2 and was able to lift a ball. Just trying to find a barrel."

Even with the game well in hand, deGrom wanted to pitch the ninth and told manager Terry Collins so.

"I said, 'Terry, hey, I want to go back out there. I would like to stay out there and finish it,'" deGrom said.

But Polanco led off with a single and a strikeout of David Freese pushed deGrom's pitch count too high for Collins to let him go for the complete game. Fernando Salas got the final two outs.

NOTES: Pirates CF Andrew McCutchen batted sixth, the first time as a starter he slotted lower than fourth in the lineup. He was 1-for-4 with a single. ... New York promoted RHP Tyler Pill from Triple-A Las Vegas and optioned RHP Rafael Montero to Las Vegas. In a clerical move, the Mets transferred RHP Seth Lugo (elbow) from the 10-day DL to the 60-day DL. ... According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Mets' flight Thursday night was delayed in New York, so 2B Neil Walker, a Pittsburgh area native, used his cell phone to stream the Pittsburgh Penguins' Game 7 win in the NHL's Eastern Conference final.

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