Nieve wins third straight as Mets find offense against Cardinals

NEW YORK -- Fernando Nieve has spent nearly 10 years as a professional baseball player fighting for a spot on a pitching staff. So he knew exactly what to do when he saw two on-the-mend starters throwing in the Mets bullpen early Wednesday: ignore them.

Yet another smart decision by the career minor leaguer who is making quite an impression as a fill-in starter on a depleted staff.

Nieve pitched six scoreless innings to extend his improbable stint with New York and recent callup Nick Evans hit a two-run homer in an 11-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday night.

"I was thinking too much when I was with the Astros. The first time it was when [Roger] Clemens signed," said Nieve, claimed off waivers from Houston in March. "Now, I just think about doing my job."

And the job he's doing -- 10 hits and three runs in just 18 2/3 innings as starter -- might just earn Nieve (3-0) a spot in the rotation even after John Maine and Oliver Perez return as soon as next week.

"He has to keep pitching for us," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. "Shutout innings. Giving us an opportunity to win. He looks like his ball really gets on guys. ... We're going to keep pitching out there."

David Wright tied a career best with four hits and Ryan Church had three hits and two RBIs in his first start as the cleanup hitter this season. The Mets bounced back from a 4-0, two-hit loss to the Cardinals on Tuesday with their best offensive output of the season. Evans had two of the Mets' 16 hits.

"I like how Jerry put it. 'Each win takes us a game off the schedule and gets us one game closer to getting some of those guys back,'" Wright said of his injury-ravaged club.

The teams end the series with a tantalizing matchup between the Mets' Johan Santana and the Cardinals' resurgent Chris Carpenter. But Nieve did a pretty good impression of an ace Wednesday in winning his career-high third straight game filling in for Maine -- his first two wins came against the Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays.

Facing the NL Central leaders, Nieve allowed three hits, walked four and struck out five.

"He has tremendous stuff. When he first got called up I didn't know too much about him but he catches your attention," Wright said. "I like his demeanor, the confidence he has, and hopefully he keeps going."

Nieve pitched two scoreless innings of relief after being called up from the minors on June 5, the day setup man J.J. Putz went on the disabled list, then moved into the rotation. He improved to 6-4 in the majors during a professional career that began in 1999.

After walking the leadoff batter in the first, Nieve kept the Cardinals off balance, striking out three in the first three innings.

But he needed 39 pitches to get out of the third, when he loaded the bases on two hits and a walk. He used only seven pitches to get through the sixth inning.

Church gave the Mets a 1-0 lead in the first with an RBI single. Fernando Tatis, playing his third straight game for Gary Sheffield, who had a cortisone shot behind his knee Wednesday, ended that rally by hitting into his fourth double play of the series, but he drove in a run in the fourth with a groundout to make it 2-0.

An out later Evans, recalled from Double-A Binghamton on Friday, hit the first pitch from Brad Thompson several rows deep in left field for a 4-0 lead.

"It was just one of those games when I made my pitches, I got groundball outs and when I didn't they were banging the ball around a little bit," Thompson said.

Once Cardinals manager Tony La Russa removed Thompson (2-3) after he gave up a leadoff single to Wright in the sixth, the Mets feasted on shoddy play and a poor bullpen to score seven runs over the next two innings.

"It went from a tough loss to a sloppy loss. That wasn't any fun," La Russa said.

Filling in for Kyle Lohse, Thompson fell to 2-2 as a starter this season. He gave up five runs and eight hits.

Game notes
The Cardinals fell to 5-17 when Albert Pujols goes hitless. He was 0 for 2 with two walks. ... Church last batted cleanup July 3, at St. Louis. ... The Mets scored 10 runs in a win over Pittsburgh on May 9.