New York Mets starting pitcher Jonathon Niese delivers in the...

New York Mets starting pitcher Jonathon Niese delivers in the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Citi Field. (June 3, 2012) Credit: AP

These are exciting times for the Mets, what with Johan Santana's franchise-first no-hitter, a subsequent shutout by R.A. Dickey and then a move into a three-way tie for first in the NL East after a 6-1 win over St. Louis Sunday night at Citi Field. But the victory proved a little too exciting for winning pitcher Jon Niese, who left after six scoreless innings and a career-high 10 strikeouts because of an elevated heart rate.

Niese had the same problem on June 25 last year at Texas in an interleague game, but he was cleared after two days wearing a heart monitor. This was the first recurrence since that time.

Niese said he noticed his heart rate in the top of the fourth even before he got on base in the bottom of the inning with his second single of the game. He scored on a two-run homer by Kirk Nieuwenhuis that gave the Mets a 3-0 lead.

During the top of the fifth, Mets manager Terry Collins made a visit to the mound when he noticed Niese backing off the rubber and walking around a little bit. "I went out and checked him, and he said he was fine," Collins said. But the manager admitted he pulled Niese after 96 pitches at the end of the sixth because of the heart rate.

Niese agreed with the decision. "I threw six solid scoreless innings," he said. "I kept feeling the heart racing at times, and I just thought that was enough. I didn't want to do anything stupid. But I feel fine now, and that's a good sign."

The lefthander gave up six hits and got all three outs on strikeouts in the second and fourth innings. The Mets ran their streak of scoreless innings to 25 after a scoreless seventh by reliever Bobby Parnell. That is second in the major leagues to the 28-inning streak the Mets put together earlier this season.

By that time, the Mets had a 6-0 lead thanks to a three-run sixth in which Nieuwenhuis delivered a run-scoring single and Andres Torres followed with a two-run triple. Torres had three hits and also threw out the Cardinals' David Freese at the plate with a perfect strike from centerfield to end the top of the sixth with the scoreless streak intact.

Niese (4-2) has struggled with consistency at times this season, but Collins said he kept his fastball down in the strike zone and had a good changeup.

"Jon's troubles have been command issues,'' he said. "He's pitched very well when he slowed down like he did in the fifth. But his stuff is electric, and when he's around the plate, he's really effective."

Collins said Niese will undergo testing Monday to make sure he's all right. "The tests last time came out normal, and I'm sure that's how this is going to end up," Niese said. "I've never had an issue after that, and I'm sure I won't this time."

The Mets' scoreless streak finally came to an end in the eighth when rookie reliever Elvin Ramirez gave up a run in his major-league debut. That was the only blemish on a night in which the Mets climbed into a virtual three-way tie for first with Washington and Miami.

"It feels great," Niese said. "We're playing good baseball right now. If we keep doing the little things right, the breaks will come our way. Who knows where it will lead us, and hopefully it leads us into the direction we're going, which is up."

The Mets have one more game with the Cardinals Monday afternoon when Dillon Gee (4-3) takes the mound against Kyle Lohse (5-1). But Collins already was thinking about the critical NL East series in Washington beginning Tuesday. Collins announced that Chris Young, who is coming off right shoulder surgery, will make his season debut in Tuesday's game.

Depending on their bullpen sessions Monday, Collins is thinking of using Dickey on short rest Wednesday and coming back with Santana on an extra day's rest Thursday. Ideally, he wants both to face the Nationals. "Those are the guys we have to beat," said Collins, who suddenly finds himself with a legitimate contender.

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