NEW YORK (AP) — Carlos Beltran and the St. Louis Cardinals were the top-hitting team in the National League when they arrived in New York. They sure haven’t showed it.
Jonathon Niese struck out a career-high 10 in six scoreless innings and the New York Mets shut down the slumping Cardinals for the third straight game, getting a homer and three RBIs from rookie Kirk Nieuwenhuis in a 6-1 victory Sunday night.
Niese (4-2) was pulled as a precaution because of an elevated heart rate, an issue he had last season as well. Still, the left-hander 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.
“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,” said Beltran, back at Citi Field this weekend for the first time since the Mets traded him to San Francisco last summer. “Right now it seems like things are not going our way even though our mentality and our focus is there.”
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.”
It appeared the Cardinals were finally poised to score in the sixth, but center fielder Andres 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.
Lucas Duda hit an RBI single off Jake Westbrook (4-5) in the first and Nieuwenhuis drove an 0-2 pitch to right-center for a two-run homer in the fourth.
“It was a four-seamer and it wasn’t straight,” Westbrook said. “It just came back over the plate a little bit. It was just a big homer.”
Niese was aboard after a two-out single.
After the home run, Westbrook bent over and put his hands on his knees. Thinking he might be hurt, Matheny went out to check on the right-hander along with pitching coach Derek Lilliquist and a trainer. Westbrook said he was fine, just frustrated.
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.
Niese matched a career high with two hits and said his heart “started racing” after he singled and scored on Nieuwenhuis’ homer. 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 he 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.
Torres added a two-run triple and finished a homer shy of the cycle. Nieuwenhuis, batting leadoff, also had three hits.
Thanks to some stellar pitching, the surging Mets (31-23) 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.
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.
Westbrook threw 35 pitches in the first. He allowed five runs and nine hits over five-plus innings in his third consecutive loss.
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. … St. Louis LHP Jaime Garcia, scratched from his last turn with a sore elbow, expects to start Tuesday, Matheny said. … Lilliquist was back on the bench for the first time in the series after leaving the team for a couple of days to attend his son’s high school graduation in Florida. … CF Shane Robinson was scratched from the starting lineup due to a migraine and replaced by Chambers.