It was a tale of two pitchers on Thursday for the Mets -- two left-handed starters, to be exact. In the opening game of a day-night doubleheader, 31-year-old ace Johan Santana had a disappointing outing, giving up four runs on eight hits in 6 2/3 innings, as the San Diego Padres beat the Mets, 4-2.
But in the nightcap, 23-year-old Jonathon Niese -- making just his 18th major-league start -- threw a complete-game one-hit shutout, as the Mets beat the Padres, 3-0.
Niese was virtually perfect, facing just one hitter over the minimum. He did not walk a single batter. The only blemish on his gem was a Chris Denorfia double to lead off the third inning.
"I really didn't understand what was going on until after the game," Niese said. "I just tried to execute my pitches and keep the team in the game. And it worked out well."
Niese was placed on the 15-day disabled list back on May 19, with a right hamstring strain. In his first start after coming off the DL, on June 5, he pitched well, allowing just one run on six hits in seven innings against the Florida Marlins.
Five days later, he was even better. The Mets have never had a perfect game or a no-hitter in franchise history. Niese's outing was only the third time a Mets pitcher has thrown a complete-game one-hitter of nine innings or more without allowing either a walk or a hit batsman -- Tom Seaver did it back in 1969, and Steve Trachsel did it in 2003.
"He had no-hit stuff," catcher Rod Barajas said. "Something special did happen, but something a little more special could have happened."
Niese has been throwing his curveball a lot more since coming off the DL, and it has been extremely effective for him. He's also mixing up his pitch selection more in general.
"He's commanding all his pitches, and he's a very confident young man right now," manager Jerry Manuel said.
Niese is also feeling a lot better physically -- which might help explain why he was just 1-2 with a 4.79 ERA in his first eight starts of the season before the DL stint -- and why he's been so much better in his past two outings.
"Ever since I came off the DL, my hamstring, I haven't felt anything," Niese said. "Before, there was kind of a lingering soreness, but I was able to pitch through it. Being on the DL, and having that rest really helped out."
Niese said he had thrown one perfect game in his life -- in high school. But it was only a five-inning game, because his team scored 10 runs and the game was called because of the mercy rule.
Niese seemed content with his one-hitter after the game, but Barajas was still talking about what might have been. Denorfia got his hit on a 3-2 fastball -- Barajas said he would have called a different pitch, probably a cutter, if it had been later in the game or if he knew what would eventually transpire. At the time, Barajas didn't want to risk walking a leadoff runner in what was then a 1-0 game.
"I said, 'You ruined it for me in the [third] inning,'" Barajas said he told Niese, jokingly, after tossing him the baseball following catching the final out, a foul pop-up behind the plate.
But Barajas also said something serious about the young left-hander.
"I can't tell you how impressive and how good this guy can be."