ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Two blowouts, a near perfect game, a near-no-hitter and 29 runs scored in a three-game sweep sure change the complexion of a road trip.
A 9-6 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday had the New York Mets feeling pretty good about a 4-5 swing. Short memories help, said manager Terry Collins.
"You've got to be able to forget about yesterday and forget what the last series was and go play, continue to grind it out," he said of being swept at Yankee Stadium before this series. "We've turned a tough road trip into a decent road trip."
The Mets and Rays entered the set at Tropicana Field going in different directions. New York had lost six of seven - five of six on a demoralizing road trip - and the Rays were winners of four straight and tied for the best record in the American League. None of that mattered in a series where Mets starting pitchers Chris Young and R.A. Dickey set the tone and Johan Santana (4-3) was good enough to finish it.
Santana, who has allowed 10 earned runs in 10 innings since pitching the Mets' first no-hitter on June 1, allowed four earned runs on six hits and four walks in five innings to improve to 4-3.
"I think it's good for everybody to get three wins in a row, especially after losing three to the Yankees," Santana said. "We're building up our confidence."
Outscoring the Rays by 20 runs in the series and hitting .345 after entering at .254 for the season certainly helped. The Mets scored nine runs in three straight games for the first time since 2006.
"I thought it was a tremendous job by our guys," Collins said. "You come and face the best pitching in the American League and put up runs like we did, and good at-bats, got their whole staff deep into the game in pitch counts, to where they were in the fifth or sixth inning at 90 pitches."
The Mets used solo home runs from Kirk Niewenhuis leading off the game and Jason Bay in the second to take a 2-0 lead against Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson. The home runs were the fourth of the season for both batters, and the 12th and 13th allowed by Hellickson.
Tampa Bay took the lead briefly in the bottom of the second on Matt Joyce's two-run double and Elliot Johnson's two-out single.
New York responded to take a 4-3 lead in the third inning, however, when Lucas Duda scored Jordany Valdespin with a sacrifice fly and Ike Davis singled home David Wright (3-for-4) from second base with two out. Wright's double had sent Valdespin to third with one out.
With Santana laboring with his location and piling up pitches, the Rays added a run in the third to tie the game again when B.J. Upton walked, stole second on a botched Davis throw following a pickoff attempt, and scored on a Ben Zobrist single.
However, the Mets, who lead the majors with 140 two-out runs -- 15 in this series -- retook the lead in the fourth with a four-run, two-out rally. Niewenhuis belted a two-out, two-run homer to left and Duda added two more on a double to center.
Hellickson (4-3) allowed a career-high eight earned runs on nine hits in tying for the shortest outing (3 2/3 innings) of his career.
"It's very frustrating," Hellickson said. "I felt good. They just fought off some good pitches and made me pay for my mistakes."
The Rays loaded the bases to chase Santana in the sixth, but reliever Jon Rauch retired the next three batters -- two on strikeouts -- to end the threat. Tampa Bay scored twice and loaded the bases with two out in the ninth before reliever Frank Francisco struck out Zobrist on a checked swing to end the game and record his 16th save.
NOTES: The Rays sent Evan Longoria and Jeff Keppinger to Triple-A Durham to begin rehab assignments. ... Nieuwenhuis' lead-off home run was the first lead-off homer of his career and first of the season for the Mets. His second homer, on a 1-2 pitch in the fourth, marked his first career multi-homer game. ... Hideki Matsui, who entered the game batting .368 with two home runs against Santana, started at DH for a third straight game as Luke Scott was placed on the 15-day DL. ... Davis entered the series batting .167 but went 6-for-11 with six RBIs and three walks.