PITTSBURGH (AP) If he's being honest, Andrew McCutchen thought he'd have gotten to 2,000 hits long ago.
During the Pittsburgh Pirates star's run as one of the best players in the game in the early 2010s - a stretch in which electric centerfielder won an MVP and was an All-Star five times - the hits came so easily it seemed as if they'd never stop.
Then, well, “baseball happened." Pitchers adjusted. The magic he once summoned so regularly waned. He bounced around from city to city and position to position.
Peace arrived in January when McCutchen returned to Pittsburgh on a one-year deal. He vowed to appreciate his second stint in his adopted hometown more than he did his first. That's what made the moment when his 2,000th hit - a sharp single to left leading off the bottom of the first in a 2-1 win over New York on Sunday - so sweet.
McCutchen was just a 22-year-old kid on June 4, 2009, when he fisted an 0-2 pitch from New York starter Mike Pelfrey up the middle in the bottom of the first. The ball died in the grass, giving him just enough time to beat the throw.
Just over 14 years later, he didn't need to use legs he admits don't move quite like they to to become the 291st player to reach 2,000 hits. McCutchen turned on an 85 mph slider from Carlos Carrasco (2-3) and had time to soak in the moment, waving to a PNC Park crowd that included wife Maria and their three children after rounding first and making his way back to the bag.
“It was definitely special to have them here and be here,” McCutchen said. “In my mind, I was like, ‘I’ll get it today. It’s Sunday. I’ll get it.’”
McCutchen entered Pittsburgh's season-high, nine-game homestand just a handful of hits short of a plateau only four other active players have reached. As much as McCutchen wanted to get there at home, he promised himself he wasn't going to abandon the mindset that carried him to the cusp of some pretty rare company.
So he waited patiently, taking walk after walk - McCutchen entered Sunday with 12 free passes alone in June - rather than flail at something out of the strike zone and hope he got lucky. It's the kind of selfless example McCutchen has set for much of his career, one of the reasons the surprising Pirates were so intent on a reunion in the offseason.
“When you see someone of his caliber of player that’s chasing a milestone and staying consistent with their approach 100%, there’s no better model for young players than watching a veteran player handle himself like that,” Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said.
Perhaps even more importantly for McCutchen, a day he knew would come coincided with his team finishing off a 6-3 homestand that pushed it back into first in the NL Central.
“We won,” McCutchen said. “That's all I care about.”
Jack Suwinski hit his 12th home run for Pittsburgh. Mitch Keller (8-2) allowed just two hits over seven innings. David Bednar worked around a one-out double by Tommy Pham in the ninth for his 14th save.
In the clubhouse afterward Shelton flipped the ball from McCutchen's 2,000th hit to the player who is helping jolt the franchise back to life the way he did a decade ago, when Pittsburgh ended 20 years of losing and reached the postseason three straight years from 2013-15.
Back then, McCutchen thought maybe 3,000 hits were on the table. Probably not, though he joked he might play until 50 if MLB allows unlimited pinch runners.
“Just hit and someone runs for me, that’s a piece of cake,” he said. "The hits will come and I don’t know and I will look back and see where I’m at. Two (thousand) is good. More is better.”
LOST ON THE ROAD
Jeff McNeil hit his third home run of the season for New York but the Mets, with a record $355 million payroll, finished a 1-5 trip through Atlanta and Pittsburgh by struggling to generate much of anything against Keller. New York (31-35) has lost eight of nine.
Carrasco, making his first start on normal four days' rest this season, weaved in and out of danger during 4 2/3 innings in which he allowed two runs on six hits with three walks and a strikeout.
The 36-year-old, who missed more than a month with a bone chip in his right elbow that caused excessive swelling, let the leadoff hitter reach base in four of the five innings he started, including Suwinski's shot off the foul pole in right in the bottom of the fourth.
New York's bullpen kept Pittsburgh close but the Mets - forced to play for at least the next three weeks without injured major league home run leader Pete Alonso - only reached third base twice against Keller and two relievers.
“Absolutely we miss (Alonso),” Mets catcher Omar Narváez said. “But we have to get the job done.”
Mets: Begin a two-game Subway Series at home against the New York Yankees on Tuesday. Max Scherzer (5-2, 3.71 ERA) will start in the opener against Luis Severino (0-1, 5.75).
Pittsburgh: Head out for a two-city, six-game trip starting Tuesday at the Chicago Cubs.
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