Updated: 8/23/10 7:06 a.m.

PITTSBURGH (AP) National League hitters often use Pirates left-hander Zach Duke like an in-game batting practice machine, pumping up their average and their confidence.

As usual, the New York Mets are not among them.

Extras: Boxscore | Photos

Duke limited the Mets to one run over seven innings and Jose Tabata and Lastings Milledge homered, allowing Pittsburgh to salvage the final game of the three-game series by beating New York 2-1 on Sunday.

“I really felt from the first inning on my location was good with all my pitches and I was able to mix them up,” Duke said. “The fact that I was able to bounce back after the run in the first inning really got the momentum in our favor. Then those two home runs were just huge for us.”

Duke, a loser of eight of his previous 11 starts, struck out five and walked two to win for only the third time in 13 starts since May 18. He came into the game allowing 157 hits in 120 innings, with an opponents batting average of .321 that was higher than the averages of numerous Hall of Famers.

For some reason, the Mets can’t figure out a pitcher that many NL hitters can’t wait to face. Duke (6-12) is 4-1 with a 2.91 ERA against them in seven career starts. By failing to beat him again, they wasted another excellent start by Johan Santana.

“He kept us off balance and threw his curveball for strikes,” the Mets’ Jeff Francoeur said. “When I faced him in the past, he’s had trouble doing that. He threw his curveball well, which made his fastball that much better.”

The Mets got off to a good start by scoring on Carlos Beltran’s sacrifice fly in the first after leadoff batter Jose Reyes singled, moved to second on catcher Ryan Doumit’s throwing error and stole third. But they had only three singles off the left-hander over the next six innings.

The Pirates, trying to dodge their first 100-loss season since 2001, had lost five in a row and 12 of 13 to fall 43 games below .500 at 40-83.

Santana (10-8) didn’t allow a hit until Pedro Alvarez’s leadoff single in the fifth, but, after a double play, Milledge homered to center – his fourth of the season and first in 103 at-bats. Milledge started for only the second time in seven games despite having a .303 average in his last 47 games.

Tabata, one of three rookies in the Pirates lineup, hit the third homer of his career with two outs in the sixth to make it 2-1.

“It seems like everything was working out pretty good, but a couple of pitches, a couple of mistakes, changed the ballgame,” Santana said. “A couple of changeups that stayed flat over the middle of the plate.”

Santana went the distance for New York, giving up only two other hits over eight innings while striking out nine and walking one. The Pirates won despite being held to two runs or fewer for the ninth time in 10 games.

“You hate to waste that by the ace of the staff,” Francoeur said. “When we look back at end of season, we’ll see a lot of missed opportunities with him.”

During the game, a crew from the film “Abduction” shot scenes in PNC Park. While they were doing so, someone apparently made off with the Mets’ offense.

After scoring 12 runs in 14 innings in the first two games of the series, the Mets went back into the slump in which they scored three runs or fewer in 10 of 12 games.

“We’d like to have kept it going, but we’ve got a chance to put some stuff together (during a weeklong home stand),” manager Jerry Manuel said.

Evan Meek pitched a scoreless eighth inning before Joel Hanrahan – a setup reliever most of the season – pitched the ninth for his second save in five chances.

“Those guys have been solid all year, almost automatic,” Duke said. “I have no worries turning the ball over to them.”

NOTES: The Pirates’ two top draft picks, RHPs Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie, reported to short-season Class A State College for organizational orientation. Neither will pitch until the fall Florida Instructional League, where recently signed 16-year-old Luis Heredia also will report. … None of the three will be in the Pirates’ major league spring training camp in February. The last two Pirates first-rounders had invitations to camp included in their contracts. … Santana gave up two runs after surrendering one or fewer in seven of 10 starts. … The Mets were denied their first road sweep of an NL opponent this season.

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