Niese in command as Mets top Nats in rain
In the seventh inning, Jonathon Niese had one overriding thought.
"I was wondering what the hell we were doing out there," he said as he struggled to find his grip on rain-soaked ball after rain-soaked ball tossed to him by plate umpire Manny Gonzalez.
Niese and the Mets had played through periods of heavy rain Wednesday night, but in the seventh, it was the worst it had been all night. With two outs and the bases loaded for the Nationals, a 3-0 Mets lead and passing the 100-pitch mark, Niese desperately wanted to finish the inning.
After going to 3-and-0 to Roger Bernadina, Niese just grooved two fastballs for strikes. A full-count cutter was rolled to first and Daniel Murphy trudged through the infield muck to beat Bernadina to the bag, giving Niese seven shutout innings in his best performance of the season.
The Mets' 3-0 win was a strange one, played through the downpours and with a patchwork Mets lineup. But Niese (3-4), who had experienced late blow-ups a couple of times earlier this season, held a 1-0 lead from the first and got help from Justin Turner's two-out, two-run double in the sixth.
"Everybody's not really talking about the guys that are missing," Niese said of a lineup that was without regulars David Wright, Ike Davis and Angel Pagan. "The guys are just trying to make the most of their opportunities."
None more so than Turner, who moved to third base for the first time last night. He doubled down the rightfield line in the first to set up the first run, on Jason Bay's sacrifice fly that scored Jose Reyes. Turner was doubled up trying to dive back into second base after Reyes crossed the plate.
And in the sixth against Tom Gorzelanny (2-3), after Reyes was intentionally walked, Turner drove a slider over Bernadina's head in center for a double to expand the lead.
Playing his first game at third in the rain nearly derailed all that Turner did at the plate. After Niese, who had retired 12 in a row from the second through the fifth, got two quick outs in the seventh, a double and a walk brought the tying run to the plate as the rain grew heavier.
Pinch hitter Brian Bixler bounced one to third and Turner did not charge the ball. His throw was late, loading the bases.
"Justin had to play the hop with the ground the way it was," Terry Collins said. He had seen Niese lose his command in the seventh against the Rockies in his previous start, but wanted to let Niese see this one through.
"That last inning, I could tell by the second batter it wasn't the same stuff as before," he said. "But I couldn't take him out."
Most of the Mets marveled at the conditions, which left the infield a muddy, puddled mess and had catcher Ronny Paulino just looking for a pitch over the plate by the late innings.
But after Tuesday's rainout -- a night that featured far less rain than last night -- the Mets needed to play. And, with the thin lineup, they needed to get the sort of pitching performance from Niese that they got.
"You've got to pitch," Collins said. "You've got to pitch to win. With the middle of our lineup shaken up like it is, we've really got to get pitching."