By Hal McCoy
The Cincinnati Reds were force-fed the reason why the New York Mets are paying Justin Verlander $43.3 million this year.
The 40-year-old future Hall of Fame pitcher staggered in the first inning, then retired 17 of 18 batters from the second through the seventh inning.
And his practically peerless pitching was needed in a tightly contested game won by the Mets, 2-1, Wednesday night in Great American Ball Park.
Reds starter Hunter Greene struck out the side in the first inning and appeared in total control. But Pete Alonso picked on Greene’s first pitch of the second inning and lost it into the left field seats, his 13th homer to lead the majors.
The Mets added their second run, the winning run, in the fourth on a two-out double by Luis Guillorme, a walk to Francisco Alvarez and a single by Brandon Nimmo.
The Reds scored off Verlander in the first on Jonathan India’s leadoff single and Jake Fraley’s double that narrowly missed clearing the right field wall for a home run.
Tyler Stephenson walked, but was caught trying to take second on a delayed steal attempt.
From there, Verlander, making his second start this season after coming off the injured list, pitched as though he was sitting in a La-Z-Boy recliner, using all quadrants of the strike zone to mesmerize the Reds.
He pitched seven innings and gave up the one run and two hits in the first inning, then nothing more. He struck out four of the last five batters he faced.
If the Reds were happy to see him go, and they had to be deleriously happy, they didn’t show it.
Adam Ottavino pitched a 1-2-3 eighth and stand-in closer David Robertson finished it. Robertson is filling in for injured closer Edwin Diaz. He struck out both India and TJ Friedl on full counts and ended the game on a fly ball to center by Spencer Steer.
So after the first inning, 23 of 24 Reds hitters made outs. The only base-runner was a two-out Verlander walk to Stephenson in the fourth inning.
The Mets have struggled to score runs all season and Wednesday was no different. They stranded 11 runners and were 1 for 7 with runners on base.
Greene, 0-and-3 despite a 3.69 earned run average, pitched 5 1/3 innings and gave up two runs, six hits, walked four and struck out four.
The Reds bullpen kept the Mets off the scoreboard, giving the team a chance to score its 11th come-from-behind win, but it wasn’t to be
Ian Gibaut pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings (one hit), Buck Farmer pitched a scoreless innings (two hits), Alex Young pitched a third of an inning (one hit) and Casey Legumini threw one pitch and got two outs on a double play.
The Mets ripped 10 hits, three by Nimmo and two each by Daniel Vogelbach and Guillorme.
The series is tied at a game apiece with the final game Thursday afternoon at GABP.