ST. LOUIS -- Forty-one-year-olds are not supposed to be in the big leagues, let alone succeeding, let alone in 91-degree heat. Yet Bartolo Colon has proved unordinary in more than a few respects this season, so his success amidst those conditions Wednesday hardly surprised his teammates.
Instead, the Mets eagerly accepted Colon's eight brilliant innings in a 3-2 win over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium, all while marveling at his first career extra-base hit.
"Bartolo is a workhorse," said outfielder Eric Young Jr., who contributed a pair of RBI doubles. "It's a testament to him, still able to do it at his age."
At 41, Colon is doing things he never did before, or at least not recently. His leadoff double in the seventh inning was his first hit of any kind in nine years, snapping an 0-for-43 stretch at the plate. The run he scored on Young's sixth-inning double was his first since 2002, that one benefiting a Montreal franchise that no longer exists.
Even what Colon is doing on the mound is atypical of the patterns established over the first 17 years of his career. Colon threw a combined 22 changeups and sliders in Wednesday's victory, more than he threw in his first two starts combined. He has made a concerted effort to lean on those two pitches more over his past six outings, with strong results. The two- and four-seam fastballs that made him famous are coming out of his hand less often than at any time since 2008.
The new mix is working. After giving up a leadoff homer to Matt Carpenter on a four-seam fastball in the first inning Wednesday, Colon grew dominant. Relying on double plays in the second and third innings, Colon cruised without issue deep into the game, retiring 13 in a row from the fourth through eighth innings.
"He doesn't walk anybody," Carpenter said of Colon, who did not, in fact, walk anybody. "He just throws fastballs on both sides of the plate. He has some deception, even though his velocity is not what it used to be. It's impressive him being able to do what he did today. It was hot out there. He kept making pitches, and we were not able to get any more runs off him."
Still, Colon seemed destined for a tough-luck loss until his own double changed the tenor of the game. Leading off in the sixth, Colon pulled a ball into the left-field corner, easily cruising into second base with his first hit since 2005. Three pitches later, Colon scored on Young's game-tying double, and the Mets later took their first lead on David Wright's RBI single. Young added a second run-scoring double in the seventh, giving Colon a two-run cushion.
With in-game temperatures holding steady in the 90s, manager Terry Collins opted to hit for his pitcher in the bottom of the eighth, ensuring Colon would not throw a complete game despite having thrown just 86 pitches up to that point. That gave the Cardinals an opportunity for some late dramatics, drawing within a run on Allen Craig's RBI single off Jenrry Mejia. But Collins pulled his closer after that, relying on left-hander Dana Eveland to retire Matt Adams for the game's final out.
"I could have finished the game, but I was aware of the heat and the way that [Collins] ran the game," Colon said through an interpreter. "You have to be careful."
"I told him when I took him out, I said, '90 pitches in this heat is like throwing 120,'" Collins said of Colon. "'You've done your job.' Tremendous outing by him."
In truth, it has now been a half-dozen consecutive strong outings for Colon. After a rough start to the season, Colon has been brilliant of late, improving to 5-0 with a 1.66 ERA over his last six starts. The last five of them have come since his 41st birthday, while the entire stretch has coincided with his increased use of secondary pitches.
Colon, in other words, is adapting and improving in his 17th season, lifting the Mets at a time when precious few of his teammates have been able to.
"These guys, they really care, and they're trying," Collins said. "They're trying very hard. As I told them today, let's make this a starting point. Let's go win 10 in a row."