04/09/10 12:38 AM ET
Niese delivers, but Mets drop finale
Southpaw solid vs. Marlins, gets little support from bats
By Marty Noble / MLB.com
He filled out a form for E-ZPass -- a convenience he doesn't need in Ohio, his home state, and something he never considered necessary in Buffalo or Binghamton. Later, Niese opened a box containing a new suit, a necessity for the road that leads to Denver and St. Louis next week and a dozen elsewheres come summer.
Evidently, Niese intends to be in New York and other National League outposts this year.
"That's the plan," he said, with a smirk. "I'm planning on staying."
Nothing he did Thursday night in his first start of this season jeopardized that plan. Niese was the losing pitcher in the Mets' 3-1 loss to the Marlins. But he came away from his six-inning workday pleasantly disappointed -- if there is such a state of being.
"Yeah, that covers it," Niese said. "An oxymoron."
Pleased with his performance; disappointed with the result. It is a two-phrase contradiction pitchers, goalies and some quarterbacks often are forced to embrace. They can affect one half of the game. They can fret over the other half but scarcely influence it.
"The hitters' job is to produce runs," he said. "The pitcher's job is not to produce runs."
So Niese could assess his own performance and not sweat the Mets' meager offensive output, even though it cost him. Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack had to deal with it years ago. Who was Jon Niese to complain? He pitched well enough to win. He even qualified for the poorly-defined "quality start," though he wouldn't accept it because ... well ... "because we lost."
Niese had allowed eight hits, two walks and isolated runs in the first, fifth and sixth innings. Twenty-eight batters ran his pitch count to 92. He could have been more effective, he could have been battered.
"I'm all right with it," he said. "I did what I wanted to do -- give us a chance to win."
The Mets scored seven runs Monday and six in 10 innings Wednesday night. This was the night their bats were put in straitjackets, by left-hander Nate Robertson -- recently acquired from the Tigers -- and relievers Burke Badenhop and Leo Nunez. The Mets accumulated seven hits, six of them singles, and drew no walks. They scored in the fourth inning on a leadoff infield single by Jason Bay and a Fenway Park double -- it ricocheted off the tarpaulin roll beyond third base -- by Jeff Francoeur. At no other point did successive Mets batters reach base. Fourteen of their final 15 batters were retired.
So Niese, making his ninth big league start, became a victim. He never had faced the Marlins in the regular season, but Spring Training games had eliminated most of the unfamiliarity. And he knew enough about Jorge Cantu to be cautious with his pitches to him. Nonetheless, the Marlins' third baseman was responsible for two of the hits Niese allowed, both doubles. One scored Cameron Maybin from first base with two out in the fifth. Cantu has 14 RBIs in Citi Field in the season and a week it's been in operation, more than any other visiting player.
Dan Uggla and Gaby Sanchez drove in the other runs, in the first and sixth innings, respectively. Cantu might have driven in a run in the third as well, but fan interference -- clearly a possible call -- was not called on his pop double down the right-field line that was touched by a fan with long arms and disregard for rules seated in foul territory.
Whatever responsibility Niese felt for the loss was born in his choice of pitches. He estimated he had thrown 60 percent fastballs, 30 percent changeups and cutters and only five curves.
"I think my fastball is my best pitch," said Niese, though he is known for his XL curve.
"I'm going to use the curve more next time."
Mostly, he was comfortable while on stage -- and quite confident.
"I think I'm here for a reason," Niese said. "I'm looking to succeed. I'm not looking to fail."
And he's looking to drive his truck across the Triboro or through the Midtown Tunnel without stopping to pay a toll.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.