No no-no for Niese, but 3-0 Mets sweep Braves

New York Mets' Jason Bay hits a sacrifice

New York Mets' Jason Bay hits a sacrifice fly to drive in a run against the Atlanta Braves during the fourth inning of a baseball game. (April 8, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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The feel-good vibes from spring training have found their way to Citi Field, a place that for three years was the site of so many disappointing starts, finishes and unattained goals.

In just three days, the Mets have churned out three wins, getting six no-hit innings from Jonathon Niese in Sunday's 7-5 victory and sweeping the series against the Atlanta Braves.

Buoyed by a newfound confidence, the Mets believe they have what it takes to shock the baseball world.

Even if it is early in the season.

"I've said it from the beginning," Niese said. "I think we have a great staff and a great offense. And with all that, we can surprise some people this year."

Though their no-hitter-less streak now spans 7,971 games -- but who's counting? -- the Mets have their first 3-0 start since they began the 2007 season with four wins. It also was their first season-opening sweep of a National League East opponent.

Niese was nine outs away from becoming the first Met to throw a no-hitter, but Freddie Freeman's single to right with none out in the seventh inning thwarted the lefty's shot at franchise history. His performance -- four runs (three earned), two hits, four walks and seven strikeouts in six-plus innings -- completed the Mets' stellar pitching trifecta.

It began Opening Day with a gutsy outing by Johan Santana. Despite Saturday's blustery wind, R.A. Dickey located his knuckleball just enough to keep the Braves off-balance and was backed by two homers from Lucas Duda and one by David Wright. And Sunday, Niese earned a standing ovation from a Citi Field crowd of 27,855.

"You can't ask for better than that," manager Terry Collins said of his starting rotation.

"It means everything," he said, referring specifically to Niese's start. "We've done a lot of talking in spring training about getting ready to compete and getting prepared to compete. I told those guys in our first meeting, 'You're professional baseball players and there are expectations in this town and in this clubhouse. So get yourself ready to play.' And they've done that. They've stepped up and played very well so far."

The Mets outhit the Braves 31-14 in the series. Ruben Tejada (career-high four hits) and Daniel Murphy powered Sunday's offensive surge with two RBIs each.

The Mets, who have not trailed thus far, look to continue their hot streak Monday night at Citi Field against Washington.

"I'm not going to say we would have mailed the season in if we would have gone 2-1 or 1-2, or even 0-3. But it's nice," said Murphy, who doubled twice. "What me and everyone in this locker room are excited about is the consistent, crisp baseball we've played for three games."

Thanks to ample offense early, the Mets were able to stave off a late comeback by the Braves, who trailed 7-0 after six innings. After Freeman singled on an up-and-in, 90-mph fastball from Niese, Atlanta scored four runs in the inning, two on a double by Jason Heyward, to make it 7-4.

"It just kind of spiraled real quick at the end," said Niese, who allowed the first run when Duda dropped a fly ball to right.

As for losing his no-hit bid, he simply smiled and said: "It would've been nice."

The Braves got within 7-5 in the eighth on Brian McCann's solo homer off Manny Acosta, the only run allowed by the Mets' bullpen in 10 innings in the series. But Frank Francisco closed the door in the ninth, earning his third straight save.

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