ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The New York Mets have rebounded nicely after an unsuccessful Subway Series.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis hit a leadoff homer and later connected for a two-run shot, and the Mets completed a three-game sweep by beating the Tampa Bay Rays 9-6 on Thursday.
“Hopefully we can keep that momentum going,” Nieuwenhuis said.
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Jason Bay also homered and Lucas Duda drove in three runs for the Mets, who were swept in a three-game series by the New York Yankees last weekend.
“You’ve got to be able to forget what the last series was and go play,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “Continue to grind it out.”
The Mets outscored Tampa Bay 29-9 in this series.
“I thought it was tremendous by our guys,” Collins said. “You come in and face the best pitching in the American League and put up runs like we did.”
Johan Santana (4-3) allowed four runs and six hits over five-plus innings. Frank Francisco struck out Ben Zobrist with the bases loaded on a 3-2 pitch to end it.
“I think we caught this team on fire,” Zobrist said.
Nieuwenhuis began the afternoon with a home run off Jeremy Hellickson (4-3). Nieuwenhuis homered again during a four-run fourth, helping the Mets take an 8-4 lead. It was his first career multihomer game.
Hellickson gave up a career-high eight runs and nine hits in 3 2-3 innings. The reigning AL Rookie of the Year, 0-3 over his last five starts, has allowed more than three earned runs in just five of 46 career starts.
“They didn’t miss too many mistakes,” Hellickson said. “I left some changeups up and they just didn’t miss bad pitches. I just made too many mistakes.”
Jon Rauch replaced Santana with the bases loaded and no outs in the sixth and worked out of the jam by striking out Sean Rodriguez and pinch-hitter Jose Labaton, and then getting a grounder from Elliot Johnson.
“The bullpen deserves all the credit,” Santana said. “They did a great job. For all of us, you don’t want to come here and lose games. I think this is good for everybody to get three wins in a row, especially after losing three to the Yankees. We’re just building up our confidence. We played pretty good.”
Santana made his second start since the left-hander held St. Louis hitless on June 1, the first no-hitter in the Mets’ 51-year history. He allowed six runs and seven hits — including four homers — in a 9-1 loss to the Yankees last Friday.
“He’s behind in the count a lot, which he normally doesn’t do,” Collins said. “The biggest thing (Thursday), the mistakes he made weren’t hit out of the ballpark.”
Desmond Jennings cut the Rays’ deficit to 9-5 with an RBI single off Miguel Batista with one out in the ninth.
Francisco got the final two outs for his 16th save. After allowing a run-scoring grounder to Carlos Pena, the Mets’ closer fanned Zobrist.
Duda had a sacrifice fly and Ike Davis drove in run with a single as the Mets went up 4-3 in the third. Duda also had a two-run double that chased Hellickson in the fourth.
Tampa Bay took a 3-2 lead during the second when Matt Joyce hit a two-run double and Johnson had an RBI single. Zobrist’s RBI double in the third tied it at 4.
Bay, who had been 1 for 21 since returning from a rib injury, gave New York a 2-0 advantage on a solo home run in the second.
Davis added a run-scoring single in the ninth, giving him seven RBIs over his last four games.
“They just beat us up for three days … that happens,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s happened here before. We’ve been able to recover from that in the past and I anticipate we’ll be able to do it again.”
NOTES: Tampa Bay placed DH Luke Scott on the 15-day DL with back stiffness. The team plans to announce a corresponding move on Friday … Duda has 17 RBIs in his last 14 games. … Mets INF Ronny Cedeno (strained left calf) is set to start a rehab assignment Friday at Triple-A Buffalo. INF Justin Turner (sprained right ankle) was scheduled to join Buffalo on Thursday. … Zobrist played after missing two games due to a sore hand and flulike symptoms. … New York SS Ruben Tejada (strained right quadriceps) has been cleared to start jogging. … Rays third base coach Tom Foley missed the game because of a personal matter. He is expected back on Friday.