NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — Jonathon Niese had retired 15 straight batters as Sunday’s game reached the seventh inning, and anticipation at Citi Field was building.
Could this be the first no-hitter in the Mets’ 51-season history? A Niese-ter miracle?
Then Dan Uggla worked out a 10-pitch walk, and Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman singled cleanly to right on the next pitch. The Mets’ wait reached 7,191 games and counting.
Freeman’s hit saved manager Terry Collins from making perhaps the most unpopular decision in team history. Collins doubted Niese would have pitched the ninth, even if the no-hitter was within reach.
“He would’ve come out of the game,” Collins said. “You don’t sacrifice his health for an inning.”
Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen had decided on a 115-pitch limit, and the manager recalled how he took out Sid Fernandez from a Class-A game for Vero Beach in 1982 when the pitcher had a no-hitter and 21 strikeouts through seven innings but had thrown 130 pitches.
“It’s very hard, very tough,” said Collins. “I don’t think (Niese) was going to get to go the distance, no.”
Niese, overpowering Atlanta with a 93 mph fastball, had been thinking about a no-hitter since “I guess the first inning.” He was pretty sure the pitch count wouldn’t have prevented him from going for it.
“I’d have ran back out. It would have been hard to take me out,” he said in front of his locker, where an unknown prankster taped up a paper that read “Niese-ter bunny” with a photo-shopped picture of the pitcher in a white rabbit suit, holding a large carrot.
No matter, Niese was smiling when it was over. New York completed a season-opening sweep with a 7-5 victory over the Braves. For the first time in 27 years, and only the third time ever, the Mets are 3-0 while the Yankees are 0-3.
“We’re going to surprise some people this year,” Niese said.
New York is 3-0 for the first time since opening with four wins in 2007. The Mets have a .320 batting average and a 1.67 ERA.
“We’re excited — 3-0, man. You can’t draw it up any better than that,” Daniel Murphy said.
Pitching for the first time since the Mets gave him a $25.5 million, five-year deal, Niese (1-0) allowed just two balls out of the infield through six innings. Freeman singled on his 99th pitch, a fastball that was up.
He allowed four runs — two earned — and two hits in six-plus innings with seven strikeouts and two walks.
“This means everything,” Collins said. “We’ve done a lot of talking in spring training about getting ready to compete, getting ready to prepare to compete. I told those guys in our first meeting: ‘You’re professional baseball players, and there are expectations in this town and in this clubhouse.’”
Do you think Collins really would have pulled Niese? Be heard in the comments below…
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