Niese strikes out career-high 10, Mets beat Cards
By MIKE FITZPATRICK
NEW YORK (AP) Jonathon Niese's elevated heart rate is the only problem a Mets pitcher has run into lately.
Niese struck out a career-high 10 in six scoreless innings before he was pulled as a precaution and New York shut down the slumping St. Louis Cardinals for the third straight game, getting a homer and three RBIs from rookie Kirk Nieuwenhuis in a 6-1 victory Sunday night.
Niese matched a career high with two hits and said his heart "started racing" after he singled and scored on Nieuwenhuis' homer in the fourth. He had the same issue during an outing in Texas last season and wore a heart monitor afterward on the bench in Detroit. But tests checked out fine and the left-hander hasn't had any such problems since.
"It's kind of like a huge adrenaline rush," Niese explained. "I kept feeling the heart racing at the end. I said to myself, `I went out and pitched six scoreless innings, that is enough, don't do anything stupid.'"
Niese had an EKG during his spring training physical and everything came back fine. He will have more tests Monday, manager Terry Collins said, but Niese insisted he's not worried.
"Not really, because I felt it before and it's not an issue," he said. "It started in the fourth inning, but then it went away."
Andres Torres added a two-run triple and threw out a runner at the plate from center field. He finished a homer shy of the cycle. Nieuwenhuis, batting leadoff, also had three hits.
Niese (4-2) became the latest New York pitcher to dominate the Cardinals, following Johan Santana's no-hitter in the series opener Friday night - the first in Mets history - and knuckleballer R.A. Dickey's seven-hit shutout Saturday.
"I chart every one of Johan's games. I watched him attack hitters, establish his fastball in - that is what I tried to do today," Niese said. "I think I had a good release point today with my curveball."
The only thing that prevented the Cardinals from being blanked in three consecutive games for the first time since October 1976 was a two-out RBI single by Adron Chambers in the eighth off Elvin Ramirez, who was making his major league debut.
That snapped New York's scoreless streak at 25 innings and ended St. Louis' drought at 26 innings dating to Wednesday's 10-7 loss at Atlanta. The Cardinals have lost five straight and eight of 10 to fall back to .500 at 27-27.
"We ran into some pretty good pitching. We ran into some at-bats that I think some guys would like to have back," manager Mike Matheny said. "It's just one of those runs. The only way to get out of it is to work."
Thanks to some stellar pitching, the surging Mets (31-23) are headed in the opposite direction. They have won seven of nine and 10 of 14 to move eight games over .500 for the first time since July 2010. The latest victory pulled them within percentage points of first-place Washington in the NL East.
"They should be very proud of where they are," Collins said. "This is the best atmosphere I have been around in a long time."
Mets starters are 7-0 with a 1.38 ERA dating to May 25.
Carlos Beltran's first trip to Citi Field since the Mets traded him to San Francisco last summer hasn't included much offense. The Cardinals were the top-hitting team in the National League when they arrived, but they sure haven't showed it.
"It's a little bit of everything. I think they're pitching great. We're not hitting the ball, we're not getting on base," Beltran said. "Right now it seems like things are not going our way even though our mentality and our focus is there."
Not wanting to take any chances, Collins pulled Niese after 96 pitches - 70 strikes. Four relievers completed the eight-hitter as St. Louis stranded 12 runners.
It appeared the Cardinals were finally poised to score in the sixth, but Torres threw out World Series MVP David Freese at the plate on Chambers' two-out single.
"That does take a little wind out of your sails," Matheny said.
Nieuwenhuis added an RBI single in the sixth and Torres greeted Maikel Cleto with a two-run triple to make it 6-0. After that, the only drama that remained was whether the Cardinals could actually push across a run.
NOTES: Mets RHP Dillon Gee (4-3, 4.69 ERA) was moved up a day to start Monday's series finale on his regular four days of rest. Kyle Lohse (5-1, 3.36 ERA) goes for the Cardinals as they try to avoid a four-game sweep. ... Collins said RHP Chris Young will be called up to start Tuesday night at Washington, with RHP Miguel Batista coming off the disabled list to back him up. Young missed most of last season because of shoulder surgery but re-signed with the Mets and has been working his way back in the minors. ... Former closer and team captain John Franco was inducted into the Mets' Hall of Fame during a 35-minute ceremony on the field before the game.
Updated June 4, 2012