NEW YORK -- All around a win for 10 hard-fought innings, the Mets couldn't pull it in.
New York had the winning run at third base with one out in both the ninth and 10th innings and failed to get it in, and also were one out away from getting out of a jam in the top of the 10th. But Hector Sanchez's single off Frank Francisco scored Melky Cabrera, who had walked to lead off the inning, and the Mets went down to a third straight defeat, 4-3, to the Giants in the opener of a four-game series at Citi Field.
"We played hard," manager Terry Collins said. "We didn't hit very well early, and Jon Niese had one bad [three-run third] inning, but we hung in there and gave ourselves opportunities to win the game several times.
"When you play this [Giants] team, you had better be ready to hit. Because they can pitch."
Trailing 3-0 after three innings, the Mets got solo homers from Jason Bay and Kirk Nieuwenhuis in the fourth and fifth to cut the deficit to 3-2. Otherwise, they failed to calculate the sweeping curves of Giants starter Barry Zito and the work of relievers Guillermo Mota and Jeremy Affeldt until the ninth, when against closer Santiago Casilla, leadoff batter Bay beat out a roller in the hole at short.
A wild pitch by Javier Lopez moved Bay to second before Nieuwenhuis walked. Josh Thole climaxed an eight-pitch at-bat with a ground ball single to right to score Bay and tie the game at 3-3. Nieuwenhuis advanced to third and chased reliever Lopez, who was replaced by Sergio Romo. But Nieuwenhuis was out at the plate on pinch-hitter Mike Baxter's ground ball, and Romo fanned Ruben Tejada to send the game to extra innings.
After Cabrera walked to lead off the 10th, Francisco, the fifth Mets pitcher, struck out Pablo Sandoval. Cabrera stole second base, and Gregor Blanco flied out for the second out. But Sanchez delivered a clean single to center on an 0-1 pitch to put the Giants ahead, 4-3.
"Even if he didn't hit the ball hard, I still should have made a better pitch," Francisco said. "It was up."
The Mets nonetheless had a chance to win it in their half of the 10th. Daniel Murphy and David Wright both singled sharply to lead off the frame, and Ike Davis advanced them with a broken bat ground ball. But Bay was fanned by Clay Hensley on a 2-2 sinker and Lucas Duda flied out to center to end the game.
But not without Nieuwenhuis, a callup in the place of the injured Andres Torres, for whom the Mets traded Angel Pagan in the offseason, continuing to prove himself a worthy big league center fielder. He extended his hitting streak to seven games with the home run, and also made a full extension diving catch to rob Sanchez of extra bases in the seventh.
"I am not going to get into who is going to play center field in two weeks, because nobody knows," Collins said. "But he has been really impressive.
"It's maximum effort every day. One of the things I have always liked about Kirk is that at [game time], the mood changes. He enjoys himself as much as anyone, but when the game comes, it's different."
After Pagan, in his return to Citi Field, homered on the second pitch of the third inning to give the Giants a 1-0 lead, Cabrera and Sandoval singled, and Cabrera scored on Buster Posey's double up the right-center-field gap.
A wild pitch from Niese scored Sandoval and moved Posey to third with nobody out. But Niese got out of the jam.
"I made some adjustments," Niese said. "The curveball helped me out a little bit, got my fastball down and the used the cutter a little bit."
Niese settled in to last six innings as the Mets battled back. Bay hit a 3-1 Zito hanger out with two outs in the fourth to get the Mets on the board. Nieuwenhuis then similarly took advantage of the friendlier Citi Field dimensions on his home run, one that doubled as the first opposite-field homer by a lefty hitter in the park's history.
Nieuwenhuis' effort, unfortunately, ultimately went for naught.
"Battling back like that and losing at the end," he said, "it's tough."
Jay Greenberg is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.