DETROIT -- A Tigers-Mets series that began with a much-hyped pitching duel ended with an unexpected one. Aníbal Sánchez and Jacob deGrom battled well into Sunday's series finale before Neil Walker hit a tiebreaking two-run homer off former Mets closer Francisco Rodríguez in the ninth inning, helping New York avoid a series sweep at Comerica Park with a 3-1 win.
"We've got to start a streak," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "We've got to start someplace, and we'll take it."
Two days after Justin Verlander and Noah Syndergaard battled in the series opener, Sanchez kept pace with deGrom by throwing eight innings of one-run ball with 10 strikeouts. Michael Conforto's seventh-inning solo homer put the Mets in front before Ian Kinsler's pinch-hit RBI infield single off Jerry Blevins tied it in the bottom of the frame.
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"We felt like at that point in the game it was anybody's game," said Justin Upton, who scored on the play. "We felt like we wanted to go out and take it and we put ourselves in a position to win. We just didn't get it done."
Rodriguez (1-2), making his fourth appearance in five days, hit Alejandro De Aza with an 0-2 pitch to lead off the ninth, then paid for back-to-back fastballs, the second of which Walker drove over the right-center-field wall for his 19th home run of the season.
"We're grinding," Walker said. "It's no secret how things have gone here with injuries and grinding it out and all that stuff. To win the last game of a three-game series, you feel a little bit of a salvage."
Addison Reed (3-2) gave up a J.D. Martinez double and a Casey McGehee single with two outs in the eighth but escaped when the Mets caught Martinez in a rundown between third and home.
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MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Walker wins it: The Mets took no time roughing up their old closer, Rodriguez, who hit De Aza on the hand. The next batter, Walker, launched a clutch two-run homer. It was Walker's third home run and 14th hit in his last eight games. Walker is batting .436 with two doubles, three home runs and nine RBIs in his last eight games against the Tigers.
"I've faced him a lot," Walker said of Rodriguez. "He's a guy that you really want to see up a lot, especially with his offspeed pitches. Right there, I was able to get a fastball that was up in the zone, and react to it. You certainly don't figure you're going to do damage like that against him."
Playing the matchup game: Collins' latest curious decision came after deGrom loaded the bases on a single, a walk and an infield dribbler with two outs in the seventh. Rather than let deGrom face Tyler Collins at 103 pitches, Collins turned to lefty specialist Blevins. That prompted Tigers manager Brad Ausmus to pinch-hit Kinsler, who hit a chopper over Blevins' head to tie the game at 1. The run went on deGrom's line, snapping his career-high scoreless-innings streak at 20.
"I would have liked to stay in there," deGrom said. "I think every starting pitcher would have wanted to stay in in that position. Those are your guys on base. I think [it was] probably the right call to take me out. But just the competitiveness, you want to stay in there and have a chance to get out of that, put up another zero."
Greetings, McGehee: McGehee, who arrived in Detroit early Sunday morning after being recalled from Triple-A Toledo with Nick Castellanos on the disabled list, just missed a go-ahead home run in the seventh inning of his first start as a Tiger, flying out to the right-field warning track. He got his revenge in the eighth with a diving stop at third base and throw to rob Matt Reynolds of a one-out single. McGehee nearly pulled Detroit ahead in the eighth, but his potential go-ahead single went for naught as Martinez was stopped heading into third base and Upton rounded second, leading to an inning-ending rundown. More >
Slump buster: Struggling to find playing time while mired in a two-week slump, Conforto redirected a Sanchez fastball over the left-field fence for his first home run since June 16. It was a redemptive hit for Conforto, who recently spent time in the Minors while trying to rediscover the swing that made him so successful as a rookie.
"It kind of shows that the work is paying off," Conforto said. "That was good for me, and good for the team to get us going."
"It doesn't really matter where you finish if you get in there, as we saw last year. We've got to hang in there. We can't get down. We've got to stay as positive as we can. Hopefully, we start getting a few guys back and make a good run." -- Collins, on the Mets' playoff push
FROM THE TRAINER'S ROOM
De Aza doubled over in pain after taking a Rodriguez fastball off his right hand to lead off the ninth. But X-rays taken in the bowels of Comerica Park came back negative, and De Aza expects to be available Tuesday at Citi Field.
"It hit me hard, but after like 30 seconds, the pain was going away," De Aza said. "I feel like I can grip good, so I don't worry about it much."
Mets: Scoring runs may not prove any easier for the Mets when they open a six-game homestand Tuesday at Citi Field, where D-backs ace and former Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke awaits them. Following an off-day Monday, left-hander Steven Matz will oppose Greinke in the 7:10 p.m. ET game.
Tigers: After a nine-game homestand, the Tigers hit the road for the West Coast with a three-game series at Seattle. Michael Fulmer will start Monday's series opener against the Mariners at Safeco Field looking for his first decision in five starts. Game time is 10:10 p.m. ET.
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