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ST. LOUIS — Taijuan Walker was automatic, a contrast to the slop that passed for pitching by the Cardinals on Thursday.
But leave it to this Mets lineup to inject uncertainty into what otherwise should have been a lopsided victory. So each Walker pitch carried significance, and the right-hander didn’t disappoint his team in a 4-1 victory over the Cardinals that gave the Mets a split in the four-game series.
Walker fired a one-hitter over seven innings with eight strikeouts and retired the last 18 batters he faced in his best performance this season. The Mets certainly welcomed the outing, following a doubleheader the previous day that included a “bullpen” game.
“It was just really pounding the strike zone,” Walker said. “I thought I could throw everything for strikes when I needed to, and when I got behind I was able to throw a changeup or something just to get them off the fastball and get them to fly out or ground out.”
Walker lowered his ERA to 2.38 — a number that would lead many starting rotations, but it’s third on the Mets, behind Jacob deGrom (0.51) and Marcus Stroman (2.12).
“They’re really good and they are fun to watch,” Francisco Lindor said. “They all pitch a little differently, but it seems like they all have a great approach … those guys, they don’t want to come out of the game. You try to take them out of the game and they are not happy, I love that.”
The Mets finally established a cushion in the eighth when they sent eight batters to the plate (for the second time in the game) and scored twice to take a 4-1 lead. Pete Alonso’s walk with the bases loaded forced in one run and Dominic Smith’s RBI single added another. There was another significant moment in the ninth, when Lindor singled to right field, ending an 0-for-26 drought. Lindor reached base four times in the game.
“It’s still a long road,” Lindor said. “I’m still working as hard as I can to be the best player I can be. If I can do something on a daily basis to help the team that to me is it.”
However, it was largely a frustrating afternoon at the plate for the Mets, who drew 11 walks and left 17 runners on base. They finished 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position, continuing their woes in that category.
Walker allowed an unearned run in the second, after Jonathan Villar’s throw to second sailed for an error and gave the Cardinals runners on the corners with nobody out. Harrison Bader’s sacrifice fly brought in Nolan Arenado, who had singled leading off the inning.
Then Walker got rolling, beginning in the second inning. That included returning to the mound after a 17-minute rain delay before the bottom of the sixth and easily handling the three batters he faced. He repeated the trick in the seventh, running his total to 18 straight.
The tone for the afternoon might have been set in the first inning, when Walker struck out the side, fanning Tommy Edman, Dylan Carlson and Paul Goldschmidt.
“The biggest thing for [Walker] was how well he attacked the strike zone,” catcher James McCann said. “His pitch count was never high and he attacked from pitch No. 1.”
The Mets’ patience paid dividends in the fifth, when they sent eight batters to the plate and scored twice, without getting a hit in the inning. After Alonso reached on Arenado’s throwing error, John Gant walked Smith, Kevin Pillar and Villar in succession to force in a run. Gant was replaced by Kodi Whitley, who walked McCann to give the Mets their second run.
In a turbulent week in which the front office fired hitting coach Chili Davis and assistant Tom Slater, the Mets still managed a 4-3 road trip and now return home for five games against the Diamondbacks and Orioles.
“There’s things in baseball you can’t control and there’s things you can control,” McCann said. “Regardless of the way the road trip went off the field, coming away with a winning record on the road trip, that’s huge. That shows a lot of character from this team.”
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