NEW YORK (AP) — Hard to imagine one day on the job was truly enough for new Mets hitting coach Lamar Johnson to make much of a difference. It only looked that way.
Juan Lagares drove in two runs, Vic Black gave the bullpen a boost and New York finally managed some timely hits Tuesday night in a 4-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“We were hoping we’d have a good homestand,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “We’ve played well. We just haven’t hit and driven in the big runs. To have a game like tonight I thought was important.”
Daniel Murphy doubled twice and No. 8 batter Ruben Tejada reached base all four times up to help the Mets win for only the fourth time in 13 games. The victory came one day after batting coach Dave Hudgens was fired and replaced by Johnson, who had been New York’s minor league hitting coordinator.
Black (1-0) got four big outs in his first major league outing this season, and Jenrry Mejia pitched two innings for his fourth save.
With a runner on, Curtis Granderson made an outstanding catch in the right-field corner for the second out of the ninth. Mejia then walked Andrew McCutchen and retired Mets nemesis Gaby Sanchez on a game-ending grounder.
“We lined out multiple times. Some nights, that’s just the way it is,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said.
Starling Marte hit a two-run single for the Pirates, hurt by four wild pitches in losing for the second time in seven games.
With the score 2-all, Tejada drew his second walk to start the sixth. He advanced on two wild pitches by Jeanmar Gomez (0-2) and scored when Lagares flicked a single over a drawn-in infield.
Murphy followed with an RBI double to make it 4-2.
“Lagares had a great at-bat,” Murphy said. “Got some timely hitting and I think some really good baserunning out there as well, too, so it’s a good win.”
Black struck out Sanchez with runners at the corners to end the seventh.
Pittsburgh had first and third again in the eighth when Mejia got pinch-hitter Pedro Alvarez to ground into an inning-ending double play.
“Now I’m ready for any situation,” Mejia said.
Handed a 2-0 lead, Mets starter Jonathon Niese let it slip away.
Normally a fast worker, Niese slowed his pace considerably as he walked three batters in the sixth. Marte’s bases-loaded single tied it, but Black struck out pinch-hitter Ike Davis with the bases loaded to end the inning.
It was a matchup that pitted two players against their former teams. Black was acquired from Pittsburgh last August, and the Mets traded Davis to the Pirates last month.
Black was expected to be in the Mets’ bullpen at the start of the season, but was shipped to the minors after a rough spring. The right-hander got called up as the roster addition for Sunday’s doubleheader against Arizona, then sent back down immediately after the games.
He went to meet Triple-A Las Vegas in El Paso, Texas, but quickly turned around when the Mets recalled him late Monday to replace reliever Jose Valverde, who was released. Functioning on little sleep, Black took an early flight back to New York on Tuesday and showed up at the ballpark ready to pitch.
“Vic got out of it for me and he did a great job,” Niese said. “The way it started off, I felt like I could go seven or eight today, kind of save the bullpen. That’s why I was angry with the sixth.”
Pirates starter Edinson Volquez walked five and threw two wild pitches in five innings, extending his struggles on the road.
“That’s what you’re supposed to do, keep the game close. But I know walks killed me tonight,” Volquez said.
Murphy doubled in the third and scored on Bobby Abreu’s two-out single. Tejada and Lagares both doubled off the wall in left field in the fourth to make it 2-0.
Lagares made a leaping catch of McCutchen’s drive at the 390-foot sign in right-center to end the first inning. McCutchen returned the favor with a spectacular, diving grab to rob Lagares of extra bases in the third.
“They kind of traded them, didn’t they?” Hurdle said. “We just couldn’t find gaps. Good plays by the center fielders, as good as you’re going to see.”
NOTES: Hurdle said he’s looking to get a day off soon for 2B Neil Walker, who has started all 51 games this season. … After a setback Sunday, Mets RHP Dillon Gee (strained lat) is headed to the team’s complex in Florida to continue his rehabilitation. He said it will probably be a few days before he tries to get on the mound again. “We’re going to go with the slow-and-steady approach this time,” he said. … Mets C Travis d’Arnaud (concussion) went 0 for 1 with a walk in a rehab game for Double-A Binghamton. He was scheduled to catch seven innings, but the game was suspended after two innings because of rain. As long as he got his work in and felt OK, d’Arnaud was expected to be activated Wednesday or Thursday. … Rap star 50 Cent was comically off target with the ceremonial first pitch.
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