ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Mets and Rays entered their three-game series at Tropicana Field going in decidedly different directions. A sweep by the Mets changed things completely for both.
New York pounded another Rays starter and got an adequate start from Johan Santana on Thursday to win 9-6 and finish off a dominating three-game effort.
New York has lost six of seven and been swept by the rival Yankees before the series began and the Rays were winners of four straight and tied for the best record in the American League, but the teams reversed roles in almost every way, with Mets hitters awakening and the Rays' pitching staff collapsing.
The Mets outscored the Rays 28-9 in the series.
Santana, who on June 1 pitched the first no-hitter in Mets' history, allowed four earned runs on six hits and four walks in five innings to improve to 4-3.
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, giving Hellickson 13 home runs allowed this season.
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. Hideki Matsui started the rally with a single and moved to second on the play on an error by center fielder Niewenhuis and Zobrist followed with a walk before Joyce's double.
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, who entered hitting .600 in his last four games, singled home David Wright 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.
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: Nieuwenhuis' lead-off home run was the first 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. ... Rays third base coach Todd Foley missed the game due to a personal matter, the team said. ... Matsui, who entered the game batting .368 with two home runs against Santana, started at DH for a third straight game in place of Luke Scott. ... Rays 2B/OF Ben Zobrist returned after sitting on Wednesday with a sore hand. ... Hellickson allowed three home runs in a game for the third time this season.