NEW YORK -- Pirates starter Charlie Morton executed his game plan to perfection on Monday night at Citi Field. Pittsburgh then handed the ball over to ace middle reliever Daniel McCutchen, who had not allowed an earned run in his past six appearances.
But baseball is a fickle game, one where ground balls can find holes and even the most reliable of relievers are bound to get roughed up sometimes.
The Mets scraped together 11 singles off Morton before Josh Thole ripped McCutchen for the Mets' first extra-base hit of the evening, a two-run double that broke open a seventh-inning tie and pushed the Mets to a 7-3 win.
"When they got wood on it, it was finding a hole," Pirates catcher Chris Snyder said. "That's the way it was all night, and it kind of got contagious there toward the end."
The night had begun auspiciously for the Pirates, who started off the second leg of their seven-game road swing with a bang when Snyder homered to left to give the visitors a 2-0 lead on Mets starter Dillon Gee.
"That was just a really bad pitch to a really big guy. He's got some power," said Gee of Snyder, who has three home runs and is hitting .289 this season. "After that pitch, I didn't throw a slider for the rest of the night."
While the Pirates gained the lead with the most emphatic of blasts, they would relinquish it in the bottom half of the frame in a fashion that was far from convincing.
Morton has made a living this year by using his sinker to pitch to contact, putting together a career-low ERA of 2.61 coming into Monday's game despite having his worst strikeout-to-walk ratio. During the second inning, it didn't matter whether he induced a ground ball or notched a strikeout -- he gave up a run on each.
With one out and runners on second and third, Morton threw a nasty curveball low and inside that Jason Pridie swung on and missed. Unfortunately for Morton, Snyder was expecting a sinker. The pitch bounced past Snyder to the dugout, allowing Pridie to reach first safely and Daniel Murphy to score.
One batter later, Morton got his ground ball. But instead of the hard double-play ball he needed, the ball Ruben Tejada tapped toward third base died on the infield grass. Third baseman Brandon Wood didn't have a play, and the Mets had tied the game. Both runs were unearned.
"Mentally, you kind of start pressing," Morton said. "You kind of start feeling like you need to make a lot better pitches. You feel like you need to strike them out instead of giving up hits."
The Mets would claim the lead in an equally confounding fifth inning. Morton was to blame for the first baserunner in the frame, a hit-by-pitch to Justin Turner, but not much afterward.
A pair of ground balls found holes through either side of the infield before Angel Pagan hit a hard grounder up the middle that appeared at first to be the double play Morton so badly needed. Shortstop Ronny Cedeno made a sliding play to catch the ball on the hop up the middle, but his attempt to flip the ball with his glove fell short of its intended recipient. By the time second baseman Neil Walker retrieved the ball, everybody was safe and the Mets had the lead.
"Anytime I get a ground ball in that kind of situation, your first thought is ground-ball double play," Morton said. "It was just hit in one of those spots it was hard to get to."
Morton's counterpart for the Mets chose to avoid such issues by striking out a career-high eight batters. After Snyder's home run, Gee retired the next six Pirates in order, including five in a row by strikeout. He allowed just two more balls in the air for the remainder of the game, both of which landed safely in the mitts of Pirates outfielders.
In a seventh inning that seemed to be the result of some sort of karma, the Pirates tied the game with a similar compilation of seeing-eye singles, but it was to no avail.
Trustworthy reliever McCutchen entered the game with a sterling 0.40 ERA and promptly committed the cardinal sin of the relief pitcher when he walked Carlos Beltran to lead off the inning.
The struggling Thole made him pay two batters later, scorching a misplaced sinker to right-center field and all but ending the game.
"When I needed a big pitch, I've come up with a big pitch," McCutchen said. "I had bases loaded in Milwaukee and I got a one-out double-play ball. That's something I was looking to do tonight. Then I executed a pitch, and tonight I just didn't execute the pitch, and it's as simple as that.
The Mets added two more runs for good measure in the eighth, and the Pirates, who had just three hits after Snyder's home run, failed to generate any more offense and fell to their second straight defeat.
"They just hit them where we weren't," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Aaron Taube is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.