By RONALD BLUM, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Jonathon Niese took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in his first start since signing a rich contract and the New York Mets completed a season-opening sweep of the Atlanta Braves with a 7-5 victory Sunday.
Niese (1-0) allowed just two balls out of the infield through six innings and retired 15 in a row before walking Dan Uggla on a 10-pitch at-bat leading off the seventh. On the next pitch, Niese's 99th of the game, Freddie Freeman singled cleanly to right.
New York has played 7,971 games in its 51-season history and is the oldest team in the majors without a no-hitter, startling for a club that produced stellar pitchers such as Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan and Dwight Gooden. San Diego (6,846) is the only other big league team without one.
Niese lasted just two more batters after Freeman. Right fielder Lucas Duda, looking into a sunny, cloudless sky, dropped Matt Diaz's fly ball for a run-scoring error that made it 7-1, and Jason Heyward chased Niese with a two-run double. Pinch-hitter Jack Wilson added a sacrifice fly off Manny Acosta.
Pitching for the first time since the Mets gave him a $25.5 million, five-year deal, Niese allowed four runs — two earned — and two hits in six-plus innings with seven strikeouts and two walks. It also was his first outing since a $10,000 offseason nose job — paid for by former teammate Carlos Beltran — to correct a deviated septum. Niese's 2011 season was cut short Aug. 23 when he strained an intercostal muscle.
Ruben Tejada had a career-best four hits for the Mets. Frank Francisco pitched the ninth for his third save of the series.
Overpowering the Braves with a fastball that reached 93 mph, Niese benefited early from the wide strike zone of plate umpire Phil Cuzzi, who called out Michael Bourn and Martin Prado on strikes as Niese fanned the side in the third.
On what would have been the 58th birthday of late Mets star Gary Carter, the Mets improved to 3-0 for the first time since they won their first four games in 2007. The Braves are 0-3 for the second time since losing their first 10 games in 1988. In 2003 they were outscored 17-2 by Montreal in a three-game sweep at Atlanta.
Atlanta had seven runs and 14 hits in the series.
Mike Minor (0-1), who impressed the Braves by throwing 14 consecutive scoreless innings in his first four spring training starts, gave up six runs, six hits and four walks in five-plus innings.
Before a crowd of 27,855 on Easter Sunday, more than 14,000 short of capacity, David Wright put the Mets ahead with a sacrifice fly in the first and Duda added another sacrifice fly in the fourth. Daniel Murphy hit a two-run double in the fifth, and the Mets made it 7-0 in the sixth on Scott Hairston's RBI double against Cristhian Martinez and Tejada's two-run double.
Brian McCann, who had been 0 for 10 in the series, homered in the eighth over the newly pulled-in fence in right, a ball that likely would have been a flyout in previous seasons at Citi Field.
NOTES: The highlight of the Mets' three-game series against Washington figures to be Wednesday's finale, with Johan Santana pitching against Stephen Strasburg. New York is selling $2.50 tickets for that game, to be played on the 50th anniversary of the Mets' debut. ... Niese pitched a one-hitter against San Diego on June 10, 2010, allowing Chris Denorfia's leadoff double in the third. ... Last year Atlanta was not swept in a series of three games or more until Sept. 5-7 at Philadelphia. ... The Braves said 3B Chipper Jones will work out in Houston before Monday night's game at the Astros. He is eligible to come off the disabled list Tuesday following surgery March 26 to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. ... LHP Sean Gilmartin, taken by the Braves with the 28th pick of last year's amateur draft, allowed two hits in six shutout innings in his Double-A debut, a 1-0 loss by Mississippi to Mobile in the Southern League on Saturday. ... RHP Tim Hudson, returning from back surgery on Nov. 28, pitched three innings in a rehab assignment for Class-A Rome in the Southern League against Charleston. He allowed two runs and four hits. Two of the hits were infield singles by Dante Bichette Jr. ... Wright's home run Saturday was only his sixth to the opposite field at Citi Field, according to STATS LLC. He had one each in 2009 and last year, and three in 2010. Wright has 728 RBIs, five short of Darryl Strawberry's club record.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.