With two outs, the bases loaded and the Mets holding a 4-2 lead, Brewers catcher Jett Bandy lofted what appeared to be an inning-ending pop-up to the left side of the infield.
Mets shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera appeared to be camped under it — and then, clearly in trouble, he began turning this way and that, finally twisting with his back to home plate as the ball appeared to thud off the heel of his glove.
Eric Thames, who had walked, scored easily from third. Hernan Perez, who had singled, scored from second. That tied the score at 4-4 and brought back sickening memories of the night Castillo dropped what should have been a game-ending pop-up by Alex Rodriguez in 2009 at Yankee Stadium. Two runs scored on that play, with Mark Teixeira hustling all the way from first to give the Yankees an improbable 9-8 victory.
Only the inexplicable lack of hustle by Domingo Santana, who leisurely rounded the bases from first and had to stop at third, prevented the Brewers from taking the lead right then and there.
That ensured that Pill, an unheralded pitcher from whom the Mets expected little, would come away with nothing.
And it was just another reminder that these Mets have a way of making easy nights difficult and routine victories anything but.
“Things happen all the time during the season,” Bruce said. “You can’t let them affect the next play or the next pitch. We have to really forget about them all and be ready for the next opportunity.”
Credit Julie Jacobson/Associated Press
Four days earlier, Pill was a Class AAA pitcher with limited major league prospects; three days earlier, he was the losing pitcher in his first big league appearance. A 27-year-old right-hander, he had a career 4.01 E.R.A. in the minors and had waited seven years to make his first big league start. And he did so on Tuesday only because of the rash of injuries that has decimated the Mets’ rotation.
“I talked to the guys at Triple-A about him, and they said he has a knack to make people swing and miss,” Collins said. “Who knows why? He’s a perfect example of a guy who hasn’t changed what he used to get here. His fastball is not overpowering, but he makes pitches with it. He goes strike one on everybody, and once you’re ahead in the count, you’re going to get easier outs.”
Pill lived dangerously for much of the game, allowing a first-inning run on a hit batter, a single and a double and working with men on base in each of the six innings he started. But he wound up pitching five and a third innings of one-run ball, and he gave his high-scoring team — the Mets have averaged nearly six runs per game since April 28, when they lost their best hitter, Yoenis Cespedes, to a hamstring injury — every chance to win.
“He lived up to exactly what I’d been told about him,” Collins said. “He didn’t give in to anyone, and he didn’t beat himself.”
His teammates nearly did that for him.
After staking Pill to a slim 2-1 lead on a bases-loaded walk that Jose Reyes drew in the fifth inning, and extending the lead to 4-1 on Duda’s eighth home run of the season, the Mets gave it all back in the seventh.
The seventh began with Fernando Salas leaving a bases-loaded, one-out mess for Jerry Blevins to clean up.
Blevins wound up walking in the Brewers’ second run. Then came the pop-up and a horrifying case of déjà vu for Mets fans who remember the Castillo play.
“It got up there in the rain and the glare, and he had a tough time judging where it was coming down,” Collins said.
Cabrera said: “No excuse for it. I’m just laughing now because we won the game. But when I dropped that ball, I feel really bad for Pill. He had his first win.”
The two-run error sent the game into a five-inning slog during which the Brewers got runners on first and second with one out in the 10th, a threat that was shut down when Smoker struck out Keon Broxton and Thames. Meanwhile, the Mets had just one hit — Michael Conforto’s two-out single in the ninth — over six innings, until the rally in the 12th that finally ended the game. Bruce singled to center field, scoring T. J. Rivera, who had led off the inning with a pinch-hit single, from third.
“That was a big win for us tonight,” Collins said. “I think it speaks volumes when a team can overcome an error and pick up one of the guys. I think it’s huge.”
Huge, but not easy, and memorable for a lot of reasons — not all of them positive.