ST. LOUIS -- After absorbing an eight-hit, eight-run pounding in a Saturday loss to Pittsburgh, New York Mets left-hander Jonathon Niese knew something had to change. His ERA was 5.93 and he'd won once since beating San Diego on Opening Day.
So he practiced his mechanics in front of a mirror, then threw a longer-than-usual bullpen session between starts before a four-game series started Monday with St. Louis.
Niese's extra work paid off with 7 1/3 innings on Thursday in a 5-2 win, snapping his four-game losing streak and the team's six-game skid.
Inducing 14 outs on grounders, Niese (3-4) made his first start in Busch Stadium a success and kept the Mets (15-23) from being swept in a four-game series for the first time in 52 seasons of visiting St. Louis.
"Everything felt good today from the start," he said. "I stayed on top of the ball all the way, didn't get under it like I had been doing. We tried to keep attacking the hitters and I kept my arm in the same slot."
Prior to his disastrous start against Pittsburgh, Niese was knocked out in four innings on May 5 in Atlanta, yielding seven runs and seven hits. So he figured his arm could handle a bullpen session of 70 pitches on Monday.
With pitching coach Dan Warthen watching, Niese worked on his pitches and his release point to try to get his mechanics fixed.
"I hadn't been going long enough in games," he said. "I usually throw about 50 pitches in a bullpen, but I needed to work on things."
That work paid off as Niese retired nine in a row at one stage, pitching to the form that manager Terry Collins thought he could all along.
"He's one of the guys I haven't worried about," Collins said. "I think the cold weather took something out of him. There's no arm issues, so I knew he could get it going. I felt he was going to pitch well."
While Niese shut down the Cardinals' bats, Daniel Murphy and David Wright took turns working over St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright (5-3).
Murphy touched Wainwright (5-3) for three hits, including an RBI double to tie the score at 1 in the third and a double that started a two-run sixth, and added a fourth hit in the ninth. Wright scored Murphy twice with a tiebreaking single in the third and a double in the sixth.
"I hung a changeup to Murphy and he hit a (double)," Wainwright said. "It was a terrible pitch. David's first RBI, I made a good pitch down and away and he just hit it. Second RBI, I made a terrible pitch over the middle of the plate."
The result snapped a six-game losing streak for the Mets (15-23) and was just St. Louis' third loss in 15 games. The Cardinals saw their National League Central lead over Cincinnati drop to two games, pending the outcome of the Reds' game Thursday night in Miami.
St. Louis took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second off Niese when Pete Kozma looped an RBI double just in front of diving center fielder Rick Ankiel. It scored Yadier Molina, who singled and moved to second on David Freese's groundout.
That was it for the Cardinals' offense until the eighth, when Carlos Beltran greeted reliever Brandon Lyon with an RBI single that scored Matt Carpenter. But with Allen Craig representing the potential tying run at the plate, Lyon got him to bounce into a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning.
Bobby Parnell worked the ninth for his fourth save for New York, which also got a sacrifice fly from Lucas Duda and an RBI single from John Buck.
Minutes after Parnell whiffed Kozma to end it, loud music was vibrating through the Mets' clubhouse as Collins talked with the media.
"Guys came in here with a great frame of mind and great energy today," he said. "It's what you play the game for -- to win."
NOTES: When Seth Maness picked up a victory on Wednesday night, he became the first Cardinals pitcher since 1900 with three relief wins in his first five major league appearances. ... Mets 1b Ike Davis struggled again, going 0 for 5 with four strikeouts to drop his average to .157. Collins said Davis would stay in the lineup for this weekend's series at the Chicago Cubs. ... Entering Thursday's game at 26-13, St. Louis was off to its best start since the 1941 team opened 30-9.