ST. LOUIS -- The New York Mets return home still relevant, albeit banged up.
In a must-win game at Busch Stadium, Alejandro De Aza produced a career-high five RBIs and Seth Lugo tossed five scoreless innings before departing with what was labeled a right calf cramp as the Mets beat the St. Louis Cardinals 10-6 on Thursday.
With the rubber-game win, the Mets moved to within 3.5 games of the Cardinals for the National League’s second wild-card spot. A loss would have left the Mets six back in the loss column with 35 games remaining and crippled reasonable hope of a return to the postseason.
“We came into this series knowing we had to pick up some ground,” manager Terry Collins said. “And we picked up a game. That means a lot.”
The Mets (64-63) had the odds stacked against them this series, with Jonathon Niese starting the opener and Lugo making his second major league start in the finale. Yet the Mets unexpectedly won both of those games, while dropping the middle game started by Jacob deGrom. The opening win came despite Niese departing after four batters with a left-knee injury. He underwent surgery Thursday in Manhattan to repair a torn meniscus and likely is lost for the season.
The Mets went 5-5 on their trip to Arizona, San Francisco and St. Louis and are hanging around in the postseason race despite mounting injuries.
With a 7-0 lead, Lugo took the mound for the sixth, but departed with an escort from trainer Ray Ramirez before facing the inning’s first batter. Lugo nonetheless earned his first major league win, and his first win since May 10 with Triple-A Las Vegas. He allowed two hits and three walks while striking out five. Lugo sliced his career ERA to 2.51.
“That last pitch I threw in warmups -- the third or fourth pitch, I just felt it in the middle of the pitch,” Lugo said. “I wanted to stay in, but it’s not worth the risk.”
Said Collins: “Every time I turn around something unexpected is popping up, but Seth did a great job. It happens, when you’re cramping up like that. But he really threw the ball very well again.”
Lugo had stepped into the rotation on this trip with Steven Matz landing on the disabled list with a mild shoulder strain. The importance of Matz returning from the DL this Tuesday, the first day he is eligible, now has increased importance if Lugo is unavailable for that start -- although Lugo’s cramping sounded like a relatively benign issue.
Matz is expected to throw a bullpen session this weekend at Citi Field to gauge his readiness to face the Miami Marlins -- another team the Mets are chasing in the wild-card standings.
The Mets played Thursday without Jay Bruce, who is nursing right-calf tightness. They also were without Neil Walker, who completed a three-day paternity leave on Thursday. Walker’s daughter, Nora Vail, was born early Tuesday in Pittsburgh.
De Aza, maligned early in the season by fans, filled the offensive void in their absence. He delivered a two-run single in the fourth and a three-run homer an inning later against Adam Wainwright as the Mets built a seven-run lead.
“One of the things about him, he knows his role,” Collins said about De Aza. “He doesn’t have to like it, but he accepts it and gets himself ready.”