But the Pirates provided an explosive display of their own as they surprised everyone in attendance with an 11-1 blowout victory.
Catcher Ronny Paulino went 3-for-5 with three runs, a home run and an RBI, and Jason Bay, who was voted in as one of the starting outfielders for the All-Star Game, finished 2-for-5 with three RBIs and a run as the Bucs picked up their third win in their last five games.
Lefty starter Paul Maholm scattered seven hits and gave up only one run via a sacrifice fly in six innings. The 24-year-old rookie walked three while striking out three.
It was a performance that few and far between could have predicted or seen. That is, except for the Pirates skipper Jim Tracy. In fact, in a pregame chat with a few members of the media, Tracy could have come across as clairvoyant, so much so that one might start calling him Nostradamus.
Despite a recent 13-game losing streak, Tracy told the press that the Pirates were on the verge of turning the corner. He believed his team had the right makeup to make things happen sooner rather than later.
"We've had so many close games this year that I believe we've learned enough to start seeing the light," said Tracy, who referred to the Pirates' Major League-leading 24 one-run losses this season. "Once a light goes off, another one will click, then another and another, until we're putting things together collectively."
The Bucs responded in a resounding way with a three-run fifth, a five-run seventh and three more in the eighth.
After going 2-4 against the White Sox and the Tigers, the teams with the two best records in the Major Leagues, things did not look favorable heading into Shea Stadium. Even though the Mets have hit a bump in the road in their past nine games (2-7), they still possessed the best record in the NL and had a lineup with six players selected to the All-Star Game.
But it was the Bucs who looked like All-Stars the entire night as they forced Mets starter John Maine from the game and then pounded relievers Chad Bradford and Pedro Feliciano.
And Maholm provided the Pirates with the quality pitching, which Tracy alluded to before the game.
"That's exactly what we meant when we talked about timely hitting and having a pitcher come up with a pitch here and a pitch there to get us through the game," Tracy said after the win.
|"We've had so many close games this year that I believe we've learned enough to start seeing the light."|
|-- Jim Tracy|
"I put myself into a situation where I had to make some pitches and needed to come up with one pitch here and there to get out of trouble," said Maholm, who threw 116 pitches, 69 for strikes.
After Maholm allowed a run in the third on a sacrifice fly by Carlos Beltran, he wiggled out of the fourth after putting Cliff Floyd and Xavier Nady on to start the inning. He did so by inducing Jose Valentin to ground into a double play to short and then got out Maine to ground out to end the threat.
"Those are the types of pitches we've been looking for all year, and Paul did a great job tonight," said Tracy.
Maholm came through again in the fifth after Jose Reyes and Paul Lo Duca singled to star the inning. But, once again, the lefy made the pitches when he needed them. He struck out Beltran and then forced Carlos Delgado into a flyout and, after Reyes stole third base, got David Wright to ground out.
"Everything was good for him," said Paulino. "His command was good, he was aggressive, he was keeping the ball down. He is getting more and more confident and he is pitching really good."
Maholm kept the Mets' loaded offense from doing much damage long enough for the Pirates to get going themselves. Beltran, Delgado and Wright, the Mets' Nos. 3-5 hitters, went a combined 0-for-9. The Mets were a combined 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position and left nine runners on base.
The Pirates, though, capitalized when they had the chances.
In the fifth, after Freddy Sanchez flied out to start the inning, Jeromy Burnitz walked. Maine struck out Jose Castillo and looked as if he would get out of the inning. But the 25-year-old rookie, who replaced the ailing Pedro Martinez in the rotation, gave up a single to Paulino and followed it by walking Maholm to load the bases. The righty then walked Jose Bautista to score Burnitz. Jack Wilson followed with a single to bring in Paulino and Maholm and chased Maine from the game. Darren Oliver relieved and struck out Sean Casey.
The Bucs broke the game open in the seventh with a five-run inning off Mets reliever Chad Bradford, highlighted by Jason Bay's ground-rule double that hopped over the center field wall and scored Joe Randa and Bautista.
They added three more in the eighth, punctuated by back-to-back home runs by Paulino and Nate McLouth off reliever Pedro Feliciano.
Relievers Damaso Marte and Matt Capps combined to throw three scoreless innings to close out the game.
"I'm so encouraged tonight, because guys were conscious of run-scoring situations and they did what's needed to get on and produce runs," said Tracy. "Hopefully, we're starting to get on the other side of the learning curve."
If Monday's game is some type of an indicator, the Bucs may have just busted through the school doors in a major way.
Chris Girandola is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.