Kathy Willens, Associated Press
NEW YORK — Jonathon Niese struck out a career-high 10 in six scoreless innings and the New York Mets 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.
Andres Torres added a two-run triple and 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.
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.
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 a season-high eight games over .500. The latest victory pulled them within within percentage points of first-place Washington in the NL East.
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.
Looking to get his bored bullpen some needed work, Mets manager Terry Collins pulled Niese after 96 pitches — 70 strikes. Four relievers completed the eight-hitter as St. Louis stranded 12 runners.
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. Niese, who matched a career high with two hits, was aboard after a two-out single.
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.
Westbrook 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, manager Mike Matheny said. ... 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. ... Cardinals CF Shane Robinson was scratched from the starting lineup due to a migraine and replaced by Chambers. ... St. Louis pitching coach Derek 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.
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