NEW YORK -- Before he was inducted into the New York Mets' Hall of Fame on Sunday night, former reliever John Franco compared the current Mets team to his 2000 National League championship team, saying it had something special going on.
Then the Mets backed up Franco's claim, nearly shutting out the defending World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals for the third consecutive game before settling for a 6-1 win. This time, Jonathon Niese pitched six scoreless innings while striking out a career-high 10, following Johan Santana's no-hitter and R.A. Dickey's shutout.
Niese added a career-high two hits, while Kirk Nieuwenhuis homered and had a career-high three RBI. Andres Torres had three hits for the surprising Mets, who moved a season-high eight games over .500.
Jake Westbrook (4-5) allowed five runs on nine hits in five innings for the Cardinals, who dropped their fifth straight game.
The Mets moved into a three-way tie for first place with the Miami Marlins and the Washington Nationals in the NL East.
There was some concern for the Mets, though, as manager Terry Collins revealed after the game that Niese left with an elevated heart rate.
Niese experienced the same issue last June but was cleared by doctors after several tests. Collins said he will be evaluated again Monday.
"I get excited; it's hard to calm down," Niese said, adding that since the incident last season, he has "never had an issue." Niese said "it came up a little bit in the fourth inning, then it went away." He said it didn't scare him because he has dealt with it before.
St. Louis again barely offered any offense, managing eight hits, including two apiece from Yadier Molina and Adron Chambers. The Cardinals scored their first run of the series in the eighth on an RBI single by Chambers against Elvin Ramirez.
"Just one of those ruts," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It's just where we are. ... I just don't see it lasting very long."
New York, which wore black uniform shirts in honor of Franco's era, added to its 3-0 lead with three in the sixth on an RBI single by Nieuwenhuis and a two-run triple from Torres.
Niese (4-2) continued the trend of his fellow Mets, giving the starters 24 consecutive shutout innings against the Cardinals. He said he didn't think about extending the streak but fed off the performance of his two predecessors.
"I don't want to put that kind of pressure on myself," he said. "It's great watching them attack hitters."
He allowed six hits in six innings, walking one batter and hitting another. St. Louis' best chance to score against him came in the sixth, when Chambers hit a two-out single to center and Carlos Beltran raced for the plate. But center fielder Torres' throw just beat Beltran for the final out, keeping the Mets' 3-0 lead intact.
Niese not only had a career game on the mound, but one of his two hits helped give him a bigger cushion, in the fourth. Niese's second single, to left field with two outs, extended the inning for Nieuwenhuis, who then homered to center to give the Mets a 3-0 lead.
Franco, who had 276 of his 424 saves for his hometown Mets, got emotional when paying tribute to his late parents in the team's Hall of Fame induction ceremony before the game, attended by several of his former teammates as well as members of the 1969 World Series championship team.
"It means a lot to me," Franco said, remembering the days he would look up to players like Tom Seaver and Tug McGraw. "Growing up in Brooklyn and rooting for the Mets, I was always dreaming about playing for my favorite team. I had an opportunity to play for my favorite team and now being in (my) favorite team's Hall of Fame with guys that were my heroes -- the Seavers, the McGraws, Tommie Agee, Bud Harrelson. To be on the wall with those guys means a lot to me."
NOTES: Political comedian Bill Maher announced Sunday that he is a minority owner of the Mets, saying he thought it was a "good investment" and that he was a life-long Mets fan. Maher said the deal happened "months ago" but wasn't announced because this was his first time in New York since then and first trip to Citi Field. He credited himself with bringing good luck to the franchise, saying "I mean, let's be honest, they did not have a no-hitter for 50 years. I buy in and I come to town, there's a no-hitter. Draw your own conclusions, gentlemen." ... Right-hander Dillon Gee will start for the Mets on Monday and Chris Young will start Tuesday. Dickey might start on three days' rest Wednesday against the NL East-leading Washington Nationals, manager Terry Collins said. Collins said he will monitor Dickey's bullpen session Monday and then make a final decision. If Dickey does not start, Jeremy Hefner will, Collins said, as he will give Santana an extra day of rest for his surgically repaired left shoulder to recover from Friday's 134-pitch no-hitter. ... Shortstop Ruben Tejada should be activated off the disabled list Friday, Collins said, and Jason Bay could DH by then in interleague play, which begins with a weekend series at the Yankees. ... Cardinals left-hander Jaime Garcia has indicated he'll take his next start Tuesday, manager Mike Matheny said. Garcia has been battling inflammation in his left elbow. Center fielder Shane Robinson was a late scratch due to a migraine. Chambers took his place.