NEW YORK -- For 96 of his 98 pitches, Trevor Williams was great. But on the wrong day, two pitches are enough to add one more loop to a team's downward spiral.
The Pirates lost their seventh consecutive game Saturday night at Citi Field, burned by the long ball again in a 3-0 defeat by the Mets. Their offense fizzled again, this time against Steven Matz, who delivered a shutout.
Pittsburgh is 2-13 since the All-Star break, now 12 games below .500 at 46-58. At the end of the first half, the Pirates were 2 1/2 games out of first place in the National League Central. With the July 31 Trade Deadline four days away, they've fallen 10 back.
Even a gem from Williams couldn't stem the tide. The right-hander threw seven sharp innings, allowing just four hits and three runs while tying his season high with seven strikeouts. He took a no-hitter into the fifth. One of the runs shouldn't have scored, the result of a misplayed Todd Frazier popup by shortstop Jung Ho Kang just beyond the infield dirt.
Two of the Mets' four hits left the ballpark -- a solo homer by Michael Conforto that broke a scoreless tie in the sixth, and a two-run shot to center by J.D. Davis in the seventh that brought home Frazier.
"Those are the games as a pitcher, it's what you'd like to have. You like to move along with the opposing pitcher. It's really whoever blinks first," Williams said. "Unfortunately for us, I was the one that blinked first."
In the past six games of their losing streak, the Pirates have allowed 18 home runs -- 12 to the Cardinals in their last series, six to the Mets in the first two games of this one. In that same six-game stretch, Pittsburgh batters have hit just three homers of their own.
Before Saturday's game, manager Clint Hurdle praised Williams sensing the team's need for a big game.
"Trevor's well aware of where we are, where he's been, and I believe he has every intention of being a stopper tonight," the Pirates' skipper said.
By all accounts, Williams delivered a stopper-worthy performance. It just didn't actually stop this skid.
"It goes back to connecting the dots," Hurdle said. "We got the outing that we needed tonight."
Hurdle ended up having to watch Williams from the clubhouse -- he was ejected after the top of the first inning for arguing balls and strikes, his third ejection this season and 63rd as an MLB manager.
"The game looks so much easier on TV than it does watching it from the dugout or actually, back in the day, playing it," Hurdle said. "You watch two men go out and pitch extremely well."
From Williams' last start, when he threw five innings of one-earned-run, seven-strikeout ball against the Cardinals, to this one, he's starting to look like the second-half ace he was last season. The four Pirates starters who pitched between, on the other hand, combined for 19 earned runs in 18 innings.
"Trevor pitched extremely well -- his best start this year," Hurdle said. "Command, execution of the slider, his fastball command. You saw him move it like you saw it move in 2018. This was more right in the lens of his 2018 starts."
He didn't get the stop this time. But it's something to build on.
"We're on a tough skid right now at a pretty important and crucial part of the season," Williams said. "I'm confident we're gonna get out of this."