But late in the game, the Bucs found their energy.
An offensive surge in the seventh inning sparked a rally that was capped in the ninth when right fielder Steve Pearce connected on a game-winning line drive to right field that brought home two runs and gave the Pirates a 7-5 comeback victory.
It put the Pirates back on the winning track, and they completed their 10-game road trip with a 4-7 record as they head back to Pittsburgh for a seven-game homestand that will include a four-game series against the Mets.
"It was real big of these guys to pull together and come back, especially 5-1 down, and it didn't look like anything was going our way at all," Russell said. "We started to put together some good at-bats, started to take some walks, took advantage of that and got some big hits later.
"It was just one of those days. The first three innings, it just didn't seem like we were here. The guys really regrouped."
The Pirates connected on just three hits off Mets starter Pedro Martinez. First baseman Doug Mientkiewicz hadn't faced Martinez since 2003, and though he came away with a 2-for-3 performance against the righty, Mientkiewicz said he's harder to hit now than he had been previously.
"Before his stuff was so hard, you couldn't swing because it was behind you," he said. "He just, when he still has it, I don't care what anybody says, he knows more about the game now than he did then. And when he gets guys in scoring position he always rears back and throws something extra.
"There's more movement, he's smarter, he still has the same command. Not that he was easy to hit before, but he knows what he's doing, and he's crafty now."
But despite early struggles at the plate, the Pirates went to work on a struggling New York bullpen. With one run on the board thanks to an RBI single from Mientkiewicz in the fifth inning, the Bucs climbed back to within one run in the seventh.
The Mets relievers put three batters on base with walks, and Pittsburgh took advantage of the pitching mistakes. All three runners who got free passes eventually scored.
And when Pearce stepped up to the plate with the score tied in the ninth, he had something to prove. With a bases-loaded opportunity in the fourth inning, Pearce fell short and popped out to second baseman Damion Easley on the first pitch to end the inning. This time, he wanted to be patient. On a 3-1 count, he laid off a fastball down the middle from Scott Schoeneweis before he swung at the next one for the game-winner.
"It was a good pitch to hit, but he's been throwing a lot of balls, and I'd rather see two strikes than one, so I was going to let that one go and work the 3-2 count," Pearce said. "I was more upset that at-bat. I didn't want to let the team down like I did previously, so I got in there, worked the count, and got the pitch that I was waiting for. Fortunately I was able to drop it for a hit."
The hit sealed the win for the Pirates after the early innings made defeat seem almost inevitable. They were forced to battle back throughout the game, and it started with the first pitch when starter Zach Duke gave up a single to Mets shortstop Jose Reyes.
Defensive slipups continued to hamper the Bucs as they recorded three errors for the second straight game -- all in the first three innings. Catcher Ryan Doumit couldn't hold onto a throw from center fielder Nate McLouth in the third, and as the ball dropped to the ground, Carlos Delgado crossed home plate to extend the Mets' lead. It marked the second run of the day that resulted from an error.
"It was inexcusable," Doumit said. "Perfect throw from Nate, and if I make that tag and he's out, the suspense wouldn't have been there in the eighth and ninth."
Duke was tagged for five runs (three earned), and his pitch count suffered. He had racked up 29 pitches at the close of the first inning, but managed to pitch economically enough to hold off the 100-pitch mark until the sixth inning. And as Duke settled down, so did the rest of the Pirates.
Pittsburgh's relievers gave up just three hits and didn't allow a run in three innings to hold off New York's offense.
"We seem to never give up -- we're always in the game," Pearce said. "And I'll tell you what, our bullpen has just been unbelievable the last couple days. They give us shots to come back when we are down, 5-1. They hold us in it, and we wait for a big inning."
And the Pirates got one. In fact, they got two big innings, and the late offensive surge erased the early mistakes and gave the Bucs a positive end to a long 11 days.
"Today was a big win for us," Doumit said. "They had the momentum the entire game, and us coming off an extremely long road trip, this is going to be a nice little breath of fresh air going back home."