PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates lineup was already without Corey Dickerson and Starling Marte on Friday night. Two innings into the game, they lost Josh Bell. But David Freese picked them up and carried them home.
After driving in the Bucs' first four runs of the night, Freese came to the plate with the bases loaded and nobody out in the ninth. Marte was on deck to pinch-hit with his left hand heavily wrapped, but who other than Freese was going to finish the job? Sure enough, the veteran infielder ripped a walk-off single to center field against reliever Tim Peterson to give the Pirates a 5-4 win over the Mets at PNC Park.
"It's a great feeling," Freese said. "I don't know how much longer I'm playing here, if this is my last year here or whatnot -- I hope it's not my last year -- but to have a walk-off in Pittsburgh is pretty neat."
The Pirates and Mets had gone back and forth to that point of the night, capitalizing on each other's mistakes until they entered the ninth inning with the score tied. Josh Harrison reached on an infield single and moved to third base on Gregory Polanco's single to right. Freese wondered if the Mets would pitch to Elias Diaz or intentionally walk him. Mets manager Mickey Callaway signaled for the intentional walk.
"It was kind of like, here we go," Freese said.
Already 2-for-2 with two walks and four RBIs on the night, Freese swatted Peterson's first pitch into the gap. Freese waved his teammates toward him as he rounded first base, setting off a celebration in the infield.
"Just a fantastic night for him," manager Clint Hurdle said.
The win snapped Pittsburgh's two-game losing streak and pulled the Bucs back within three games of the second National League Wild Card spot. With NL Cy Young Award candidate Jacob deGrom set to pitch for the Mets on Saturday, the Pirates could scarcely afford a third straight loss on the heels of their 11-game winning streak.
"If we wouldn't have won that game, I think it'd have been tough," Freese said. "Last night was sloppy. It was kind of a mess. Tonight wasn't too much better. But to come out there after that streak and losing a couple, yeah, it was nice to get this one."
Freese is quietly in the middle of his best offensive season since his All-Star campaign in 2012. Playing in a true reserve role for the first time in his career, Freese ended the night hitting .288/.356/.459 with seven homers and 32 RBIs in 73 games. Over the last 30 days, he's hitting .352 with a 1.009 OPS.
With Dickerson (hamstring) and Marte (hand) sidelined, and Bell leaving in the second inning due to left side discomfort, the Pirates needed someone to step up. Freese delivered.
"It's what you're expecting from a guy like him. He takes it very serious, very professional," said starter Ivan Nova, who allowed four runs (three earned) in five-plus innings. "He wants the opportunity to go out there and contribute. He had an awesome game today, and he's been hitting the ball really well the last couple days. That's big for us."
Freese has made a career out of mashing left-handers. He showed that part of his game by taking Mets starter Jason Vargas deep to left-center in the second inning. But with free agency potentially drawing near if the Pirates decline his 2019 club option, he focused last offseason on improving against right-handed pitchers. Now, he owns the club's highest OPS (.893) against right-handers this season.
Freese demonstrated the strides he's taken in the fifth, smacking a two-run single up the middle off reliever Seth Lugo to put Pittsburgh ahead, 4-3. And he did it again in the ninth, swatting a first-pitch slider from Peterson. So what, exactly, did he do to improve against right-handers?
"Just watched a lot of Instagram," Freese said, smiling. "To be honest, I watched a ton of swings of a ton of guys. I'm just working. … I'm just happy with the results."
So are the Pirates. When their postgame celebration finally broke up and Freese took his place in front of Pittsburgh's dugout for an interview, Polanco dumped a cooler of water on Freese's neck. Freese stopped in the middle of an answer and laughed.
"I'm cold, man," he said. "We just kept fighting and got it done."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Patience at the plate: Down a run in the fifth inning, the Pirates chased Vargas and took the lead against Lugo. The impressive part wasn't so much what they did, but how they did it.
Jordan Luplow fell behind Vargas, 0-1, then fouled off two 2-2 pitches to work a one-out walk. Polanco also fell behind Lugo, 0-2, then slapped a ground-ball single. Lugo got ahead of Diaz, with the count 1-2, but Diaz worked a walk to load the bases for Freese. Lugo quickly got ahead of Freese, 0-2, but Freese took two balls before knocking a 96-mph fastball to center.
"When you get two strikes, you've got to be comfortable being uncomfortable," Hurdle said. "I think some of our guys are growing and gaining experience in doing that this year -- that 0-2 doesn't mean it's got to be 0-3."
Freese became the first Pirates hitter since at least 1920, when RBI became an official statistic, to drive in at least five runs, get on base at least five times and have a walk-off RBI in the same game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Freese has played for three teams and hit a walk-off for each one. This was his first for the Pirates. He mashed a walk-off homer for the Angels on Sept. 26, 2015. And he famously launched a walk-off homer for the Cardinals in Game 6 of the '11 World Series.
HE SAID IT
"That's wild, especially those guys, what they've been doing for us lately. You've just got to step up. These are the dog days, I guess. It's tough out there. Bodies are dragging a little bit. But we are in the hunt, and that's what's cool. Just got to keep going. … We've just got to keep stepping up." -- Freese, on winning without Dickerson, Marte or Bell
"Well, we didn't have a lot of depth, truthfully. The guys that played, yeah. …It's one thing these guys have done all year long. They show up. Whoever's available plays. They depend upon one another. If it doesn't get done one inning, you try to set up the next inning for it to get done." -- Hurdle, on the test to Pittsburgh's depth
After lining up against reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber in his last start, right-hander Trevor Williams will face Jacob deGrom, the current National League Cy Young Award favorite, at 7:05 p.m. ET on Saturday at PNC Park. Williams put together a six-inning, rain-shortened shutout in Cleveland on Monday.