PITTSBURGH — The first pitch Andrew McCutchen saw from New York Mets reliever David Aardsma sent the Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star centerfielder sprawling.
The second ended up in the seats.
McCutchen responded from the brush-back by belting a homer to tie the game in the sixth and then provided the go-ahead single in the seventh to help the Pirates rally for a 4-2 victory on Saturday.
“I was just ready to hit,” McCutchen said. “Come up and in and I just like to bear down and be ready to hit, and that’s what happened.”
Justin Wilson (6-1) earned the victory in relief of starter A.J. Burnett. All-Star closer Jason Grilli worked a scoreless ninth for his NL-leading 29th save.
The victory assured Pittsburgh (56-36) of its best record at the All-Star break since 1975 and moved the Pirates into a tie with St. Louis for the top spot in the NL Central.
“We just want to continue to keep rolling,” McCutchen said.
That’s hardly an issue at the moment for Pittsburgh, which responded to a four-game losing streak by ripping off three straight wins.
Three years after posting the worst record in baseball at 57-105, the Pirates can match their entire win total of that miserable season with a victory in today’s series finale.
“Nobody is satisfied,” manager Clint Hurdle said.
No, but they’re certainly encouraged. The bullpen picked up its 21st win of the season — tied for the major league high — when Wilson bailed Burnett out of a two-on, two-out jam in the sixth. The Mets managed just one hit the rest of the way, giving the Pirates all the room they would need to rally from an early 2-0 deficit.
Marlon Byrd and Eric Young had two hits apiece for the Mets, but New York’s relievers faltered in relief of spot starter Carlos Torres.
A series of extra-inning games by the Mets — including a 3-2 loss in 11 innings on Friday — has left the pickings slim for manager Terry Collins.
“Those guys are out of gas,” Collins said. “Those arms are hanging.”
The Mets grinded their way to an early 2-0 lead against Burnett. Kirk Nieuwenhuis doubled home Byrd in the fourth, and Byrd added an RBI infield single in the fifth as Pittsburgh’s ace struggled with his command.
Burnett surrendered two runs on seven hits in 5 2-3 innings, striking out eight but walking four in his second start since returning from a torn calf. He escaped further damage in the sixth when Wilson struck out Daniel Murphy with runners on the corners.
“You never want to come out of a game, but you feel pretty good when these guys come in behind you,” Burnett said.
The Pirates didn’t let the reprieve go to waste. After McCutchen tied the game with his 10th homer of the season in the sixth, pinch hitter Travis Snider started the game-winning rally with a one-out single in the seventh.
Jose Tabata followed one batter later with a single, and Snider scored when McCutchen’s sharp grounder deflected off New York third baseman David Wright’s glove and into the outfield.
Pittsburgh added an insurance run when New York’s Josh Edgin walked Russell Martin with the bases loaded.
Torres filled in capably for All-Star Matt Harvey, forced to miss a start due to a blister on his right (pitching) hand. Torres pitched five effective innings in his first major league start in nearly three years. The right-hander gave up just one run and struck out five.
Torres worked as a starter in Triple-A Las Vegas this season before moving into a reliever’s role when the Mets called him up in mid-June. He hadn’t thrown more than 45 pitches since returning to the majors and cruised into the fifth before tiring.
Garrett Jones doubled and scored on Jordy Mercer’s single. Clint Barmes followed with a double, and a sacrifice bunt and a hit-by-pitch loaded the bases with one out. Yet Torres survived when Tabata hit into a double play to end the threat.
“I was just taking it inning by inning, and I thought pretty well until the fifth,” Torres said. “That fifth inning was brutal. I lost my command and I left a lot of balls up. I guess maybe I ran out of gas a little.”
Torres then handed it over to the bullpen, but New York’s relievers — whose 1.76 ERA this month is the second-best mark in baseball — couldn’t make it hold up.
NOTES: The Mets activated right-handed pitcher Scott Atchison off the disabled list following the game and sent utility player Jordany Valdespin to Triple-A Las Vegas. ... Atchison is 0-0 with a 4.50 ERA in 19 appearances with New York this season. ... The series concludes today when Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole (4-2, 3.68 ERA) faces New York’s Dillon Gee (6-7, 4.60). Cole is starting in place of Jeff Locke, who is dealing with back stiffness that will force him to sit out Tuesday’s All-Star game. ... New York reliever LaTroy Hawkins was held out again due to soreness in his right triceps. Collins said the decision on whether to put Hawkins on the disabled list won’t be made until after the All-Star break.