NEW YORK -- For most of the season's second half, the Mets' trademark starting pitching has flagged and, in some cases, faltered. Matt Harvey is done for the season. Steven Matz may be, as well. Jacob deGrom recently skipped a start due to poor performance. Noah Syndergaard, for a large swath of midsummer, was pedestrian.
But the Mets have patched things together to the chagrin of the Marlins and every other National League Wild Card contender. Seth Lugo continued to author his surprise success story on Tuesday, holding the Marlins to two runs in six innings of a 7-4 Mets victory at Citi Field.
"You talk about guys who have stepped up, our young guys have stepped up," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "We're lucky our organization's stocked because these guys have come up and they've literally just saved us."
The victory moved New York a game in front of the Marlins in the Wild Card race, keeping them within 2 1/2 games of the Cardinals for a postseason berth. The Mets now trail just two teams in the Wild Card hunt, after sitting behind four clubs as recently as Monday evening.
Making his third start in place of Matz, Lugo coughed up a Christian Yelich two-run homer in the first inning but nothing after that. From the second through sixth innings, he scattered two hits and a walk, striking out four.
"It helps having a little bit of pressure," Lugo said. "I've always found it hard to pitch with a 15-run lead. It's a little easier when there's something on the line."
Marlins starter Tom Koehler also settled down in the middle innings after giving up an Asdrúbal Cabrera two-run homer in the first. But unlike Lugo, Koehler did not stay settled; he allowed the first of Curtis Granderson's two home runs in the sixth inning, departing after all three batters to face him in the sixth reached base. Koehler gave up five runs on 10 hits for a Marlins team that has not only lost four straight, but 17 of 27 overall in August.
"They came out very aggressive today," Koehler said. "A lot of first-pitch hits, hits in general. Never really allowed me to get into a rhythm."
José Reyes finished 4-for-5 for the Mets, contributing his fifth multi-hit game in his last 11 contests.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Bad leg and all: Cabrera's solution to the knee problem that has bothered him for much of this month is to keep hitting balls over the fence, allowing him to jog instead of run around the bases. It was a formula for success in the first inning for Cabrera, who parked the first Koehler pitch he saw into the right-field stands, temporarily tying the game at 2. Cabrera was unable to start on Sunday and Monday for the Mets due to a lingering knee injury. More >
Prado's run-saving play: A mental gaffe by catcher Realmuto nearly opened the door for a two-out New York rally in the fifth. Still, with the score, 3-2, Koehler struck out Alejandro De Aza for what appeared to be the third out. But the ball skipped away from Realmuto, and De Aza was hustling to first. Realmuto took his time to complete the putout at first, and De Aza beat the throw. It went as a strikeout, wild pitch, and the Mets had a baserunner with two outs. Wilmer Flores doubled and James Loney was intentionally walked, loading the bases. René Rivera tapped a slow roller down the third-base line, and Martín Prado made a terrific barehanded play to record the third out at first base.
"It's one of those things you'd like to see a little more urgency there," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said of Realmuto. "We can't take any chances of giving any outs away. That doesn't cost us any runs necessarily right there. But it does get us to a different part of the order, and you don't know if that changes it or not."
Decision in a pinch: Lugo had thrown just 89 pitches when his spot in the batting order came up in the sixth, putting Collins to the test. Rather than hit Lugo, Collins opted for Granderson, who smashed a 92-mph Koehler fastball over the fence. That gave the Mets a two-run cushion, simultaneously ending Lugo's night after six quality innings.
Yelich cleans up with homer: Yelich on Tuesday night appeared in his 458th big league game, and it also marked the first time the 24-year-old left fielder hit cleanup. The switch from batting third to fourth produced immediate results as Yelich connected on a two-run, opposite-field homer in the first inning. Marlins manager Don Mattingly decided to shake up the lineup a bit to see if moving things around would wake up a sleeping offense, which had scored just two runs in 28 innings in its previous three games.
"It's, obviously, encouraging for him to square that up out over the plate," Mattingly said. "To get two runs on the board felt good." More >
"All we can do is keep playing. For me, I get another chance to pitch in five days. A lot of guys get a chance to come out tomorrow and play a game. You can't try to make up for what's gone on the last week or so in one night. You just have got to go out and play quality baseball. Play hard until the end. We played until the last out today. It wasn't enough." -- Koehler, on Marlins looking to get back on a winning track
NEW Statcast™ RECORD
Lugo, whose curveball already boasted the best average spin rate in baseball, set a Statcast™ record with a sixth-inning hook that clocked 3,498 RPMs. He struck out Xavier Scruggs with the pitch, giving him seven of the Major Leagues' top-10 spin rates on curveballs since the start of 2015. For perspective, MLB hitters are batting .155 with a .218 slugging percentage this season against curveballs with spin rates above 3,000 RPMs.
PRADO SHAKEN UP
One player the Marlins can't afford to lose is Prado. The club leader has been dealing with a sore shoulder for a few days, since he made a diving play during Miami's recent homestand. After he bounced into a double play in the eighth, Prado was replaced at third by Miguel Rojas in the bottom half of the inning.
Mattingly said the veteran third baseman is good to play on Wednesday.
"From the other day, his shoulder was sore from the dive," Mattingly said. "He's landed on it a couple of more times. But he's fine."
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Granderson's season includes 22 home runs and 38 RBIs, a record-setting pace of the most bizarre order. Of the more than 3,000 players in Major League history who finished a campaign with at least 22 homers, none amassed fewer than the 43 RBIs that Chris Duncan did for the Cardinals in 2006. More >
Marlins:David Phelps (7-6, 2.52 ERA) gets the start at 7:10 p.m. ET. on Wednesday in the third game of the series with the Mets at Citi Field. In six relief appearances against the Mets this year, he went 1-2 with a 7.94 ERA in 5 2/3 innings.
Mets: At least once every five days, the Mets don't have to question who's starting for them. As injuries mount up around him, Bartolo Colon continues to be a rock in New York's rotation. He'll pitch a 7:10 p.m. ET game on Wednesday opposite Phelps.
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