Starting pitching has allowed the Mets to remain competitive this season, and Jon Niese provided yet another quality start Wednesday night at Citi Field to earn his first victory of the season. But the strike that mattered most was the one shortstop Ruben Tejada relayed to the plate to nip sliding Matt Carpenter in the ninth inning and save a 3-2 win over the Cardinals.
Closer Kyle Farnsworth entered with a two-run lead and gave up one-out singles to Jon Jay and Carpenter, who had four hits. Pinch hitter Daniel Descalso lined a double to left-center, scoring Jay. Carpenter rounded third as Mets centerfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis played the ball off the wall and relayed to Tejada on the outfield grass behind short.
"I knew there needed to be two perfect throws to give that play any chance," catcher Travis d'Arnaud said. "I still can't believe that throw, a 180 [degree] spin throw like that, a perfect throw."
Under the new anti-collision rules, d'Arnaud had to give Carpenter a view of the plate. Tejada's throw came in just up the third-base line and about 18 inches off the ground as Carpenter started to slide past the Mets' catcher.
"I saw in my peripheral he was past me," d'Arnaud said, "so, I started already tagging behind me. I knew I tagged him, but I didn't know if he touched the plate first. My heart is still racing."
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny used his replay challenge, but it showed d'Arnaud's mitt touching Carpenter under one arm as his left hand hovered six inches over the plate. As he waited for the replay ruling, Farnsworth said, "I had no idea. I was just hoping they'd call him out."
They did, but Farnsworth still needed one out. He got it when Matt Holliday hit a fly down the rightfield line, where Curtis Granderson made a difficult running catch. That preserved the first win for Niese (1-2, 2.45 ERA) in four starts. He gave up a first-inning run but allowed just six hits. He struck out three and walked two in 62/3 innings, allowing only one runner to advance as far as second base after the first.
In the past nine games, Mets starters have a 1.91 ERA and have eight quality starts and five wins to keep the team bobbing along at 11-10. "Jon pitched absolutely great tonight in the conditions," manager Terry Collins said.
Temperature at game time was 51 degrees, but it felt much colder to an announced crowd of 21,981 thanks to wind gusting in from left-center at 31-41 miles per hour. Carpenter opened the game with a single against Niese, moved to second on a walk to Holliday and scored on a two-out double by Yadier Molina, who extended his hitting streak to 14 games.
"It felt like I was throwing cue balls, like I was throwing an ice pack," Niese said. "I just stayed the course. My job is to keep the team in the game."
Cardinals starter Michael Wacha was dominant early, getting the first nine outs on strikeouts and adding a career-high 10th in the fourth inning. But the Mets managed to load the bases that inning, and Tejada and Nieuwenhuis drew RBI walks for a 2-1 lead. Lucas Duda added his fourth home run in the sixth against reliever Scott Maness for the winning run.
D'Arnaud said Wacha lost his feel for the ball in the fourth, while Niese hung tough. "That was fun," d'Arnaud said of catching Niese. "He was making adjustments along the way, figuring out where to start the pitch because the ball was moving [in the wind]. It was tough, but he was mentally able to push through that."