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Cubs get off quickly against Jonathon Niese; Ryan Dempster makes it stand up

Jonathon Niese walks to the dugout after the

Jonathon Niese walks to the dugout after the seventh inning against the Chicago Cubs. (July 8, 2012) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

A strong first half by Jonathon Niese ended on a down note in the first-half finale Sunday.

Niese had won five of his previous six decisions with a 2.17 ERA in 54 innings before facing the Cubs. He allowed only two earned runs in 15 innings in his previous two starts.

But Niese doubled that only six batters into the game, allowing five hits and putting the Mets in a four-run deficit in their 7-0 loss to the Cubs at Citi Field.

Niese allowed singles to Reed Johnson and Starlin Castro to open the game. After Anthony Rizzo flied out to right, Alfonso Soriano lined a single to leftfield for a 1-0 lead. Jeff Baker followed with an RBI double to right and Geovany Soto lined a two-run single to right to make it 4-0.

"It was some tough luck in the first inning," Niese said, "but when I had runners in scoring position, I needed to execute pitches and I made some mistakes with some pitches. They punished me for it."

Said manager Terry Collins: "Obviously, he was way too much on the plate. He tried to get ahead and they hammered the first pitch. He settled down after the first inning and started making pitches."

After the hit that made it 4-0, Niese retired 18 of the next 19 batters. But after singles by Luis Valbuena and Johnson in the top of the seventh, with two outs, Castro swung at Niese's first pitch and blasted a three-run homer to make it 7-0.

Niese allowed seven runs, nine hits and no walks in seven innings, striking out three. He finished the first half 7-4 with a 3.73 ERA and 1.23 WHIP.

One thing that has hurt Niese this season is the home run. He allowed 14 in 157 1/3 innings last season and has given up 15 in 1032/3 innings this year.

Niese wants to finish the second half strong, unlike his last two seasons. He posted a 4.82 ERA after the All-Star break in 2010 and a 5.67 ERA last season.

"It's hit and miss," Niese said of his first half. "I always want to be better. Overall, it was a pretty decent half."

The Mets (46-40), who have lost four of six to the Cubs (33-52), could do nothing against Ryan Dempster (4-3) and four relievers. Dempster, who is scheduled to pitch the first game after the All-Star break, did nothing but boost his stock for a possible trade.

Dempster, making his first start off the disabled list after experiencing muscle tightness in his back, entered the game with a 22-inning scoreless streak from June 5 to June 15 and extended it to 27, lowering his ERA to 1.99. He has allowed 16 hits and three walks in his 27-inning scoreless streak.

He was removed after five innings and replaced by Paul Maholm, who made his first career relief appearance after 201 consecutive starts.

Dempster allowed four hits, walked none and struck out four, throwing 63 pitches, 45 for strikes.

"He has the stuff to beat you and he knows how to pitch," said David Wright, who went 1-for-4 with a single off Maholm. "He was throwing everything for strikes and kept us off balance."

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