In his first game since signing a contract that guarantees him $25.5 million over five seasons, Jon Niese took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning Sunday, when he walked leadoff batter Dan Uggla, then surrendered a single to Freddie Freeman. So make it 7,191 games in franchise history without a no-hitter. The Mets nonetheless held on for a 7-5 victory to sweep the Atlanta Braves and open the season 3-0.
The Mets, who have yet to trail this season, are off to their best start since winning four straight to begin 2007. They are alone in first place for the first time since May 1, 2010.
And they perfect after three games, along with the Yankees opening 0-3, for only the third time since the Mets were born 50 years ago -- the other instances in 1973 and 1985.
Now, Mike Pelfrey tries to help run the Mets' record to 4-0 Monday night. After a woeful start to spring training, he limited the Houston Astros and Yankees in his final two Grapefruit League starts to a combined two earned runs and five hits while striking out eight and walking none in 10 1/3 innings. Washington visits for the first night game at Citi Field this season. Edwin Jackson makes his debut for the Nationals, who arrive having taken two of three from the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Meanwhile, if you're counting, the Mets had one extra homer in the series as a result of the revised Citi Field dimensions, by Lucas Duda off Jair Jurrjens in the fourth inning Saturday. Opponents had none.
Monday's news reports:
• Because Niese's pitch count was at 99 on the pitch Freeman singled to break up the no-hit bid in the seventh, Terry Collins indicated the southpaw would not have been allowed to complete the outing had the no-hitter remained intact. The manager said he and pitching coach Dan Warthen had agreed to cap the outing at 115 pitches. Still, Niese countered: "I would've ran back out there. It would've been hard to take me out, that's for sure." Added catcher Mike Nickeas: "I would've lobbied for him to stay in." Read more in the Record, Post, Star-Ledger, Times, Daily News and Newsday.
• Columnist Steve Serby in the Post gets Niese to recall a no-hitter -- actually, better, a perfect game -- he tossed as an amateur. Writes Serby:
Niese had thrown a five-inning perfect game as a Defiance (Ohio) High School senior against Wauseon. “We were up 10-0, so if you’re up 10 runs after five, that’s a run rule,” he said. Niese chuckled at the caricature of himself in a bunny outfit holding a large carrot inside his locker accompanied by Happy Niese-ter at the top. “Whoever did it, that’s pretty clever,” Niese said. Someone wanted to know when he started thinking about the no-hitter, and he joked: “Um, I guess the first inning.”
• Not only do fans get a treat Wednesday with Johan Santana opposing Stephen Strasburg, the Mets are offering tickets for $2.50 in the Promenade Outfield and Left Field Landing sections. The Mets also had offered complimentary tickets to Sunday's game as they try to get fans in the seats. The tickets must be purchased in advance and are not available at game time at the box office.
• Shortstop Ruben Tejada, who had moved to the leadoff spot in Andres Torres' absence with a left-calf strain, notched a career-high four hits Sunday. Collins floated the idea pregame of potentially placing Kirk Nieuwenhuis in the leadoff spot, but that is unlikely to materialize as long as Tejada is getting on base. Collins recently had mentioned the strong possibility of Duda batting fifth and Jason Bay sixth after the first series, when the Mets no longer had to contend with the likes of southpaws Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty in the opposing bullpen, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, the manager had floated Daniel Murphy during the offseason as an alternative to Torres as leadoff hitter, but Collins is now content leaving him in the No. 2 hole. Read more on lineup machinations in the Star-Ledger.
• Tejada had been 0-for-6 in the first two games of the series, before the four-hit outburst. Collins, you may recall, had expressed disappointment that Tejada arrived on time to spring training. The manager wanted Tejada to spend most of the offseason at the team's complex in Port St. Lucie, Fla. -- bulking up in November with minor league strength and conditioning coordinator Jason Craig, then working with his new double-play partner Murphy starting in January, after a holiday break in his native Panama. Read more in Newsday and the Daily News.
• Frank Francisco, who only eight days ago was getting a cortisone shot for inflammation in his left knee, recorded saves in each game of the Braves series. He became the first Mets pitcher to notch saves in his first three games with the team. The bullpen, incidentally, only surrendered one run in 10 innings in the series -- on a solo homer by Brian McCann against Manny Acosta in the eighth inning Sunday. "I don't worry about what bothers me at the end of the game," Francisco told reporters afterward regarding his knee. "I only worry about the game." Read more in Newsday, the Daily News and Post.
• Valentino Pascucci's eighth-inning homer gave Buffalo the lead and Jeremy Hefner was a winner in his debut with the organization as the Triple-A Bisons beat Rochester on Sunday to improve to 3-1. Middle infielder Jordany Valdespin started in center field for the second straight game, coinciding with Nieuwenhuis' promotion to the majors. Read the full minor league recap here.
• Pelfrey acknowledged to ESPNNewYork.com early last season that he is injected with Toradol before starts. R.A. Dickey acknowledged in his memoir he also received injections of the drug before every second-half start last season, after tearing a band of issue beneath his foot at Wrigley Field. Santana received the injection as well after his body was achy following a start in Jupiter against the St. Louis Cardinals late in spring training. David Lennon, Newsday's new baseball columnist, writes in the newspaper about that subject:
Toradol is an NSAID, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug; it's in the same class as over-the-counter medication like Advil, Aleve and Motrin. The difference is that Toradol is far more potent -- it must be prescribed by a physician -- and it is injected, usually into the buttocks. ... "I'm a big fan," Pelfrey said. "I think it should be mandatory. I really think it's that good." Toradol is different from cortisone-type treatments, which are injected directly into the problem area and do not have a systemic effect on the entire body. David Wright received a cortisone shot during spring training to help heal his abdominal strain. ... But that focus on one particular area does not produce the same overall feeling of invulnerability that Pelfrey described after getting his shots of Toradol, which he regularly did an hour before his starts if something was bothering him. "You don't feel anything," Pelfrey said. "If someone punched me in the stomach, I wouldn't feel it."
Philip Wenger, an assistant professor of pharmacy practice at St. Louis College of Pharmacy, told ESPNNewYork.com last April that it is not recommended to use Toradol for more than five days, and certainly not on a regular basis. The generic name for the drug is Ketorolac, with Toradol a brand name.
“It’s often used for pain and inflammation, and especially pain from inflammation. But this one specifically has a warning on it that it shouldn’t be used for more than five days just because of the potential adverse reactions from it,” Wenger said. “The longer you use it, the higher the risk of problems happening. The serious problems can be serious stomach problems, serious kidney problems and the potential for bleeding and heart problems.”
• Columnist Filip Bondy in the Daily News notes the onus is now on Pelfrey to keep the solid starting pitching rolling. Writes Bondy:
These are three tough acts to follow for Mike Pelfrey, who is on deck for the Mets. “Good pitching can be contagious,” Pelfrey said. “I just told Dillon [Gee], ‘We’ve got our work cut out for us.’ You don’t want to be that guy who stops the streak, you want to keep it going. It’s good to keep that inner-competition on the team.” Next comes Monday night’s game against the Nationals, which does not involve Stephen Strasburg or Santana and might have been the most depressing event at Citi Field since Ollie Perez last stepped to the mound. Except that the Mets are at 3-0 and have done exactly what they needed, kept hope alive. They’ve swept the Braves, the first ever three-game sweep of a division rival to start any season. As far as the city rivalry goes, this is the first time since 1985 the Mets have started 3-0 while the Yanks are 0-3.
TRIVIA: The Mets had never opened a season with a three-game sweep of a division opponent, but they had swept a two-game series from a division foe five times to open a season. Which team was the most recent victim?
Sunday's answer: With a sacrifice fly Sunday, David Wright is now five RBIs from matching Darryl Strawberry's 733 for the franchise career record. No. 3 on the list: Mike Piazza, with 655 RBIs.