He did not finish with quite the performance that Santana or Dickey had, but he exited after six scoreless innings and a career-high 10 strikeouts. From that point, the bullpen helped the Mets to a 6-1 win, moving them into a three-way tie with the Washington Nationals and Florida Marlins for first place in the National League East.“I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on myself,” Niese said of following Santana and Dickey. “I went out there and put my mind-set on quality start, keep the team in the ballgame.” Besides a one-hitter in 2010, it is difficult to find a better performance from Niese in his Mets career than Sunday’s outing. He combined an effective fastball with a deceiving curveball to strike out more Cardinals through six innings than either Santana or Dickey did in nine. Niese started struggling with an elevated heart rate in the fourth inning. Manager Terry Collins visited the mound in the fifth concerned for Niese, who dealt with a similar problem last season and said he knew how to manage it. But Collins said it was one of the reasons he took Niese out after he had thrown 96 pitches through six innings, even though Niese’s pitching was not affected by his condition and Niese said he was not concerned by it. “It’s one of those things: I pitched six solid, scoreless innings; it’s kind of one of those things I felt the heart racing at times,” said Niese, who wore a heart monitor at one point last season.“I felt that was enough. I didn’t want to do anything stupid. But I feel fine now, and that’s a good sign.” Still, relieving Niese allowed the Mets’ bullpen to work. Before the game, Collins acknowledged the plight of overseeing a club with hot starting pitching. Collins told the pitching coach Dan Warthen that he would take another complete-game shutout, but he did yearn to involve his relievers. Bobby Parnell, Elvin Ramirez, Tim Byrdak and Frank Francisco pitched the final three innings for the Mets. When Ramirez, in his major league debut, allowed an eighth-inning run in his first major league appearance, it snapped a 25-inning scoreless stretch from Mets pitchers. It also prevented the Mets from posting three consecutive shutouts for the first time since May 25-27, 2010, against the Phillies. Andres Torres led the Mets offense, going 3 for 4 and driving in two, while Kirk Nieuwenhuis went 3 for 5 with a home run and three R.B.I. But most of those runs were merely cosmetic. Throughout this series, the Mets have not required much offense in order to win games after their starting pitchers combined for 24 scoreless innings. Dillon Gee will try to continue the streak Monday. All he needs to do to match up to Santana, Dickey and Niese is to not allow a hit, not allow a run or record more strikeouts than any other point in his career. “What you really want is guys who are pitching good to compete with each other,” Collins said. “I want Dillon to stand up and say, ‘I’m going to do that same thing that those guys have been doing.’ When you have that, you can be a pretty dynamic staff.” INSIDE PITCH Terry Collins shuffled his rotation this week, slating Johan Santana for Thursday’s game against the Washington Nationals in order to give Santana more rest after Friday’s no-hitter. Dillon Gee will pitch in the series finale against the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday and the veteran Chris Young is scheduled to make his season debut on Tuesday against the Nationals. R. A. Dickey is due to pitch Wednesday. … The Mets placed Mike Baxter on the 15-day disabled list. Infielder Josh Satin was recalled from Class AAA Buffalo to take Baxter’s spot on the roster. … The former Mets reliever John Franco was inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame during a pregame ceremony. Franco, a Brooklyn native who attended St. John’s, grew up a Mets fan and is the franchise’s career leader with 276 saves. Al Leiter spoke on behalf of his former teammates, many of whom attended Sunday’s game.
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