NEW YORK -- By the end of the top of the sixth inning on Sunday afternoon, with Rafael Montero's day done after 113 pitches and 10 strikeouts, the young right-hander walked off the Citi Field mound having taken manager Terry Collins' advice and used it to quiet the D-backs' bats.
"What got you to the big leagues will keep you in the big leagues," Collins told Montero when the Mets called him up earlier this month. "You have to be yourself."
Montero was, and it resulted in the best start of his young Major League career. He limited the D-backs to one run on two hits and three walks in six innings, but the Mets couldn't come up with the big hit en route to a 2-1 loss to Arizona in the first game of a doubleheader. New York hit into five double plays in the game.
Daniel Murphy's missed-catch error with two outs in the ninth allowed A.J. Pollock to score the go-ahead run -- the second game in a row a defensive miscue led to Arizona scoring the eventual winning run. This one also led to the Mets' eighth loss in 10 games, a damper on what was otherwise a breakout performance for Montero.
"Tremendous effort by Rafi today," Collins said. "I give credit to [pitching coach Dan Warthen and bullpen coach Ricky Bones]. They got him back to what he'd been doing coming into this year, and he showed you what he can do when he throws strikes. A very, very impressive outing. It's really too bad we couldn't get him some runs."
Sunday's start represented a significant improvement for Montero, who in his first two outings lasted a combined 10 1/3 innings while giving up eight runs on 12 hits (three homers).
In his third go, Montero was inefficient but effective, and 18 of his 68 strikes were of the swing-and-miss variety. With double-digit strikeouts, Montero became the fourth pitcher in Mets history to achieve that feat in one of his first three starts.
Montero's success was simple: When he located his fastball low in the strike zone, he put up zeros. Arizona's only hits off him came when he deviated from that plan.
Chris Owings turned on a 92-mph fastball up and in in the first inning, and it landed in the left-field seats for a quick 1-0 D-backs lead. Paul Goldschmidt lined another heater -- this one high and away -- up the middle for a single in the third.
Montero then retired 10 of the next 11 batters to cap his day.
"He made the pitches when he had to make them," Collins said. "That's what the game's about. It's about location of your stuff."
The Mets' offense, however, didn't do Montero many favors. It countered Owings' first-inning homer with three straight singles to open the bottom half -- with David Wright's grounder to left plating Juan Lagares -- and then went silent.
The middle of the order -- Curtis Granderson, Chris Young and Lucas Duda -- combined to go 0-for-9 with 16 runners left on base. Young grounded into two of the four double plays induced by Arizona right-hander Bronson Arroyo, who scattered six hits, a walk and two hit batters over six innings.
New York's last -- and arguably best -- scoring chance was indicative of its weekend. Bobby Abreu, pinch-hitting for Young, drew a walk to load the bases with one out in the eighth. Duda grounded into a 3-2-3 double play on the first pitch he saw to end the inning.
The Mets finished 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position.
"We're beating a dead horse here," Collins said. "It's the same stuff every day. We have to come through in some big situations and drive some runs in."
Added Arizona manager Kirk Gibson: "Those guys [the pitchers] made good pitches when we needed it. That was the story. We held it tight, then we got a break there in the last inning.
Collins explained that his team needs to better its mental approach at the plate, suggesting there is plenty of ground to make up in that area.
The batters won't be the only ones looking to improve.
"This was my best [so far]," Montero said through an interpreter. "And there's better to come."
Tim Healey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.