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 at Citi Field on Saturday night. Bassitt has now surpassed his career high in starts and only appears to be gaining strength.
The Mets (92-55) remained one game clear of the Braves, who beat the Phillies, 4-3.
After 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 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 surrendered three hits and walked two while striking out eight, toying with Pirates batters all night. He reached another gear when needed, limiting Pittsburgh to 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position.
The Pirates’ best threat came in the top of the sixth, when Rodolfo Castro (who singled) and Ben Gamel (who walked) reached second and third on a two-out wild pitch. 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. Bassitt skipped off the mound following his final strikeout.
After a career-high 28 starts, the 33-year-old Bassitt, who will be a free agent after the season, owns a 3.32 ERA and has been at his best when he most needs to be. Opposing batters are 26-for-120 (.217) with runners in scoring position against Bassitt this season.
The Mets’ offense mostly consisted of a two-out, three-run home run from 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, in the sixth, and Pete Alonso, in the eighth.
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 all night.
Escobar’s dinger was the only hit for the Mets with runners in scoring position. They went 1-for-12 and failed repeatedly to break the game open. They left 12 on base and could not make Pittsburgh pay for walking eight batters and hitting Mets batters four times.
Bassitt and the Mets’ bullpen were able to shut the door anyway.
Peterson, in his first outing out of the bullpen since he was 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, finishing 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, has had control issues for much of the season, but not Saturday. He struck out four and looked like the lefty out of the bullpen the Mets have been seeking all season.
General manager Billy Eppler did not add a southpaw at the trade deadline, so the Mets have been relying upon an up-and-down Joely Rodriguez and, recently, Alex Claudio as lefty relief options. Peterson’s ceiling is much higher, and he may have taken a step toward being in the postseason mix.