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NYM@PIT: Niese fans five, notches his third victory

The Mets' bullpen can thank Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey for extending their Thursday off-day into a three-day vacation. The Cardinals couldn't figure out the Mets' starting pitching in the first two games of the series, allowing Santana to make history on Friday with his no-hitter and remaining scoreless in Dickey's shutout on Saturday.

"Any time this offense gets shut out, it's disappointing, because this offense should never get shut out. That's my feeling as a hitting coach," Mark McGuire said after Saturday's game. "Last night was very unexpected. Today was probably the course that you would expect facing a knuckleballer."

The Cardinals will have a chance to change their fortune on Sunday night, when the Mets send Jon Niese to the mound. The left-hander had a rough outing on Monday, when he allowed four runs in five innings while walking five. Prior to getting roughed up by Philadelphia, Niese had one of his strongest outings of the season in Pittsburgh. He allowed just one earned run in 7 2/3 innings, striking out five.

"The guy tomorrow night, I still think that he's going to end up with a big season," manager Terry Collins said after Saturday's game. "Even though it just turned to June, he's got four months left with a lot of starts. He's got outstanding stuff. Jon Niese is going to win some big games for us in the next four months."

After his bullpen allowed eight earned runs in the series finale against the Phillies on Wednesday, Collins hasn't needed to use it in this series. Collins said the rest has been nice, but he needs to find work for closer Frank Francisco and the rest of the regulars in his bullpen.

The Mets have held the Cardinals without a run for 18 straight innings. Carlos Beltran, making his return to Citi Field for the first time since getting traded from New York last July, is 1-for-4 in the series, although his sixth-inning line drive down the left-field line on Friday has been a hot topic of conversation. While umpire Adrian Johnson called the ball foul, replays show it hit the chalk line. "They have pitched better than us. They have hit better than us. And they have played better defense than us," Beltran said. "And the result -- you can see it outside."

Mets: Baxter out roughly six weeks
Outfielder Mike Baxter was examined on Saturday and was diagnosed with a displacement of his right collarbone next to his sternum and fractured rib cartilage. Doctors told Baxter he'd likely be out for six weeks after crashing into the wall while chasing down Yadier Molina's seventh inning drive to left field on Friday.

"Watching the replay helped us figure out what happened physically, what part of my body hit the wall first and then how that corresponded through the rest of my chest," Baxter said. "I think it gave us answers on exactly what was physiologically wrong, but I knew during the game that I hit it pretty square."

Baxter said his injury was similar to Jason Bay's, who has been rehabbing his ribs since April 23. The only prescription for Baxter at the moment is rest. He has to let the injury heal before further measures can be taken.

"It's always tough to get hurt, especially the way this team is playing more so than the way I was playing," Baxter said. "It's just so fun just to be a part of what's going on right now."

Baxter is hitting .323 with 10 RBI this season. The Mets will call up a player to fill Baxter's roster spot on Sunday.

Cardinals: Westbrook looks to grab control
The Cardinals will send out their own struggling starter on Sunday as Jake Westbrook, who has let his effectiveness slip in his past four starts, takes the mound. He is 0-4 with an 8.10 ERA over the stretch. Westbrook was done in by the long ball in his last start -- a 5-4 loss to the Braves -- giving up two home runs and five earned runs in five innings.

"I feel good. That's one of the frustrating parts of it," Westbrook said. "I feel real good. I feel real strong. It's just making pitches. I need to find a way to get back into that consistency and do a better job of putting up zeros, especially early."

Worth noting
• David Wright does not want to talk about his contract during the season. Before the season started, the Mets third baseman and the front office agreed to table discussion until after the season. Wright said nothing has changed on that front.

• Mets reliever Ramon Ramirez strained his hamstring running from the bullpen to celebrate on the mound after the no-hitter on Friday. Collins said he had never witnessed an injury like that in person. Ramirez will be placed on the disabled list and a player will be called up to fill his roster spot on Sunday.

• "I've always said over the years of facing a knuckleballer that it's like trying to catch a butterfly," McGuire said. "Sometimes you get it. Sometimes you don't."

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