Bucs’ losing streak hits 8

Pittsburgh shortstop Kevin Newman attempts to turn a double play after forcing out New York's Pete Alonso.

NEW YORK (AP) – Michael Conforto sparked New York’s offense with a two-run homer in a six-run first inning against Chris Archer, and the Mets held on to beat the reeling Pittsburgh Pirates 8-7 Sunday to match their longest winning streak this season at four games.

Jason Vargas (6-5) won a third straight start for the first time since last August, and the Mets completed a three-game sweep. New York improved to 10-5 since the All-Star break, passing Cincinnati, Colorado and Pittsburgh in the standings. The Mets (50-55) started Sunday six games back in the NL wild-card race with six teams in front.

Pittsburgh was 2 games off the NL Central lead at the break but has lost 14 of 16, including eight in a row.

Given a 6-0 lead, Vargas allowed three runs and six hits in 5 2/3 innings. He could be dangled by the Mets ahead of Wednesday’s trade deadline along with fellow starters Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler.

Vargas, a 36-year-old left-hander, can become a free agent after the World Series unless his $8 million club option for 2020 is exercised. Wheeler can go free this fall but Syndergaard is far more valuable – he can’t become a free agent until after the 2021 season.

Jacob deGrom, Wheeler and Steven Matz got the victories earlier in the Mets’ streak. New York starting pitchers had not won four straight games since Robert Gsellman, Matt Harvey, Seth Lugo and Rafael Montero in September 2017.

New York led 8-3 in the ninth before Bryan Reynolds had a two-run homer off Tyler Bashlor and Jos Osuna hit a two-run drive against Edwin Daz, who got the next two outs for his 23rd save in 27 chances.

Archer (3-8) allowed five hits and four walks in five innings, raising his ERA to 5.58. He is 0-3 in his last nine starts, 0-4 on the road this season and has allowed 25 home runs, second in the major leagues to 28 off Houston ace Justin Verlander. Archer is 28-47 since the start of 2016 after going 32-32 in his first four seasons.

He threw 48 pitches in the first, falling behind when Conforto hit an opposite-field drive to left and reached 20 homers for the third straight season. Todd Frazier, J.D. Davis and Amed Rosario had RBI singles, and Aaron Altherr added a sacrifice fly. The inning was prolonged when third baseman Jung Ho Kang failed to catch Archer’s throw on a bunt.

Altherr entered as a pinch hitter for Jeff McNeil, who was hit on the right shin by a pitch earlier in the inning.

Jacob Stallings hit a solo homer for the Pirates, who closed to 6-3 in the fifth inning but were hurt by a sloppy game that included three errors and three unearned runs.

Stallings appeared to lose track of outs while running the bases in the fourth, possibly costing a run; Osuna dropped a foul pop near first for an error; reliever Francisco Liriano failed to cover first on Robinson Can’s rounder to the right side, leading to an usual 3-6-4 double play; and two-time Gold Glove Starling Mart was charged with an error for failing to catch Conforto’s flyout in what became a two-run sixth.

“I’ve used before the Stockdale Paradox. You have to have a sense of reality, but you need to remain optimistic,” Prates manager Clint Hurdle said. “The harsh reality is we haven’t played well for two weeks. The optimism is, as I said, there’s been six games that we could have won along the way and that flips the record with one hit or one well-placed out.”