PITTSBURGH -- Having their third baseman be the offensive catalyst is nothing new for the Mets. But it's not usually Eric Campbell.
Campbell -- David Wright's stand-in as he nurses a bruised left rotator cuff -- opened the scoring with an RBI double in the first as the Mets held off the Pirates, 5-3, at PNC Park on Saturday. The 27-year-old rookie got his second straight start at the hot corner, made some sharp plays on the field and set a career high with three hits, two of which were doubles.
Mets manager Terry Collins said he thought Campbell, a utility man who has spent most of his time in the field at first base, may have been a little uncomfortable on Friday, but he improved Saturday when the Mets snapped a three-game losing skid.
"I think a couple of games have helped him out," Collins said. "But a really good day offensively, and we needed it. Looking at the middle of the lineup, we haven't been able to get that big hit in the middle of the lineup and today he got some hits for us."
Campbell's initial two-bagger down the third-base line opened up a three-run inning against Pirates starter Gerrit Cole. It was a kick-start for an offense that scored four runs combined in the first two games of the series.
"Always early in the game when there guys on base, you want to get them in, it helps out the starting pitcher a lot," said Campbell, who raised his average to .307 with a 3-for-4 day. "I didn't put any extra pressure on myself, but I tried to get a good pitch and hit it hard."
Before the Mets were done in the first, Lucas Duda scored on a wild pitch and Campbell crossed the plate on a Kirk Nieuwenhuis single. The Mets tacked on two more runs in the second thanks to two walks and a Daniel Murphy two-run single.
Cole struggled in his return from the disabled list (right shoulder fatigue). The Mets disrupted the former No. 1 overall pick with seven hits, three walks and four steals -- three of which were by Eric Young Jr. -- and they forced Cole out of the game after four innings and 93 pitches.
"Didn't expect to be nails coming out, but expected to be better than I was today," Cole said. "… Can't replicate [in simulated game or rehab] runners on base, or guys trying to steal in an MLB game."
With a five-run advantage, Mets lefty Jon Niese looked strong early, but his command disappeared momentarily in the fourth inning. After Andrew McCutchen and Josh Harrison hit their way on base, Niese walked three straight hitters, including Pedro Alvarez and Chris Stewart with the bases loaded, to give the Bucs two runs.
Niese got out of the inning otherwise unscathed, and though he gave up one more run in the fifth, he regained form and pitched a scoreless sixth.
"I think I was the worst pitcher in the world in the fourth. And in the fifth the dumbest pitcher, and then I went back to where I was, how I started," Niese said. "That fourth was scary, not too many times do pitchers feel that way -- where you're trying like heck to throw a strike, and you can't. It's a bad feeling, but I was able to get through it."
Niese recorded his 13th quality start in 16 tries, allowing three runs on seven hits in six innings to go with five strikeouts. And his last inning may not have seemed like a whole lot, but it aided a Mets bullpen that pitched four innings the night before.
"He battled through the last two innings, even though he didn't have his best stuff," Collins said. "The last inning he pitched very good, but we needed some extra innings out of him, and at least he got us to the seventh."
With the two-run lead intact, Collins handed the ball over to Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia, who were both dominant.
Familia and Mejia combined for three perfect innings on a total 20 pitches. Familia tossed the seventh and eighth and had one strikeout, while Mejia -- who was pitching one night after throwing 34 pitches in two innings -- picked up his eighth save.
The Mets didn't score and were held to four hits in the final seven innings, but pushed their record to 37-44 at the season's halfway mark.
"We're not happy about it, we're hanging in there," Collins said of his team's first 81 games. "As I told the guys the other day, we got to push through the All-Star break; go in the break on a positive note."
Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.