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Jonathon Niese helps Mets breathe easier with win over Braves

New York Mets starting pitcher Jonathon Niese delivers

New York Mets starting pitcher Jonathon Niese delivers a pitch against the Atlanta Braves during a game at Citi Field on Monday, Sept. 21, 2015. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Terry Collins needed badly to eradicate the bitterness of the night before.

His efforts actually began on Sunday night, shortly after the loss to the Yankees, marred by Matt Harvey's early exit and the subsequent implosion.

The manager had entered a morgue-like Mets clubhouse, players anchored to the front of their lockers, sitting in silence he could not abide.

Before he left the room, Collins made a demand.

"I said, turn the damn music on and let's get ready for tomorrow, try to keep them as positive as they can," Collins said before the Mets beat the Braves, 4-0, Monday night to quell any lingering whispers of a collapse.

The Mets had created brisk business for the fear mongers, emboldened by a five-game stretch that featured four unsightly losses. Winning, however, only put more distance between the Mets and a collapse of 2007 proportions.

With 12 games left, the Mets lowered their magic number to seven. They upped their lead in the NL East to 61/2 games over the Nationals, whose game against the Orioles in Washington was rained out.

"I can honestly say there hasn't been panic," said rookie outfielder Michael Conforto, who homered in the victory.

However, Collins saw things differently, and he didn't bother to hide his relief after pulling out all the stops to "right the ship a little bit."

With a four-run lead, Collins nevertheless used closer Jeurys Familia in the ninth. He also cut short Jonathon Niese's night before it could spiral out of control.

Niese bucked a trend, sidestepping his propensity to allow little mistakes to grow into raging infernos. He survived shaky defense and spotty command, holding the Braves scoreless despite a parade of baserunners in the third and fourth.

Nevertheless, Collins pulled Niese after six scoreless innings and just 88 pitches, taking no chances. "I wanted to," Niese said about sticking around for the seventh. "But Terry's got to do what he's got to do. It's an important time of year."

Blessed with talented young arms, plenty of competition exists to crack the Mets' postseason rotation. But after posting an 8.77 ERA in his previous five starts, Niese held the Braves to three hits in his first scoreless start since blanking the Cardinals over 7 2/3 innings on July 19.

The Mets were far from perfect. Daniel Murphy stopped between second and third base, thinking the first inning was over. The mistake ended an inning in which the Mets loaded the bases but came away up just 1-0, the only run on a groundout. "My bad," Murphy said.

Wilmer Flores' throwing demons made another inconvenient appearance, when he fired wide of first base in the third. But buried within the sloppiness were shards of good, enough at least to dispatch a Braves team that is merely playing out the string.

Murphy's redemption came in the seventh, when he ripped a two-run double to make it 4-0. Yoenis Cespedes, stuck in an 0-for-19 skid before a hit on Sunday, collected hits in each of his first three at-bats, including a fifth-inning double that tested the structural integrity of the leftfield wall.

The thud of the impact rattled above Citi Field. Statcast recorded the ball jumping off Cespedes' bat at 113 mph -- the hardest contact he's made all season.

Conforto hit his eighth homer since his promotion on July 24, a shot to left. Four of his last five homers have been to the opposite field, a demonstration of the emergence of his power swing.

"There wasn't a whole lot of tension," Conforto said. "But we understand it was an important game."

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