PITTSBURGH (AP) - Staked to a four-run lead against one of baseball's worst offensive teams, Johan Santana appeared poised to even his record and take another step forward in his return from shoulder surgery.
Instead, the New York Mets ace learned he's not all the way back just yet.
The Pittsburgh Pirates chipped away at the two-time AL Cy Young Award winner then took advantage of some sloppy New York defense to rally for a 5-4 win on Monday night.
Santana gave up four runs and eight hits in 6 1-3 innings, walking two and striking out seven while getting his sixth no-decision of the season.
Most of the no-decisions are the fault of an offense that's struggled putting runs up when Santana is on the mound. This time the Mets gave Santana an early 4-0 cushion only to see it evaporate.
``I'm doing better every time out there,' Santana said. ``I still have some ways to go, but I feel there is improvement but I still need some work to do, especially with the command of my fastball.'
Pittsburgh's Mike McKenry proved that, turning an 87 mph heater from Santana into a game-tying two-run homer in the seventh.
``You just take whatever you can get from a guy like that,' McKenry said. ``Luckily he left a pitch up for me.'
Santana was gone by the time Neil Walker advanced to third when New York center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis misplayed Walker's deep fly ball leading off the eighth. Walker scored on Clint Barmes' sacrifice fly two batters later to lift the Pirates to an unlikely victory.
``It's a gift and we were able to cash it in,' Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said.
Walker's fly ball off reliever Jon Rauch (3-3) appeared to be harmless when it left the bat. Nieuwenhuis and left fielder Mike Baxter - both of whom entered the game as pinch hitters in the top of the eighth - moved toward each other to play it, with Nieuwenhuis raising his arm to call off Baxter.
Problem is, Baxter never stopped coming. The two were standing next to each other when the ball caromed off Nieuwenhuis' mitt and rolled to the wall.
``Kirk has right away on that ball as the center fielder and I should have gotten out of the way,' Baxter said. ``It hurts. It really hurts. It cost us the game.'
Walker raced to third then gave the Pirates their first lead when he slid just under the tag of catcher Mike Nickeas following a wide throw from Lucas Duda.
``We had to send him,' Hurdle said of Walker. ``There was no not sending him.'
Jared Hughes (1-0) earned his first major league win in relief. Joel Hanrahan worked the ninth for his 10th save.
David Wright had two hits for the Mets to lift his batting average to a major league-best .415. Ex-Pirate Ronny Cedeno added two hits, but New York committed three errors in all and lost for the fifth time in seven games.
Vinny Rottino, called up from the minors earlier in the day, singled with one out and Cedeno - a former Pittsburgh shortstop who signed with the Mets in the offseason and was booed constantly - doubled to right-center to give New York the lead.
Two walks sandwiched around a sacrifice bunt loaded the bases and Justin Turner delivered a two-run single. Wright followed with a RBI single and the Mets appeared in business against the Pirates, who entered the game 6-20 when allowing an opponent to score at least four runs.
Pittsburgh chipped away in the fourth thanks to three consecutive doubles by Josh Harrison, Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez - who recorded just the fifth hit by a left-handed batter off Santana this season.
Santana escaped the fourth when McKenry hit into a double play, though the backup catcher atoned in the seventh by smashing his third homer of the season.
``The pitch to McKenry is a ball I'm sure he'd like to get back,' Mets manager Terry Collins said of Santana. ``It was a pitch up. But the big difference is we didn't add on. When they scored two runs (in the fourth), we had several opportunities to get them back and we didn't.'
The Mets left nine runners on base, including two in both the seventh and eighth innings.
NOTES: Mets C Josh Thole, on the seven-day disabled list with a concussion, has been cleared to begin baseball activities but there is no timetable for his return. ... Pittsburgh starting pitcher Jeff Karstens worked three scoreless innings in a rehab start at Double-A Altoona. Karstens gave up two hits and had one strikeout. Karstens has been on the disabled list since April 17 with right shoulder inflammation. ... The series continues Tuesday, with New York knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (5-1, 3.75 ERA) facing Pittsburgh's James McDonald (3-2, 2.68).
The Associated Press News Service
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