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NYM@WSH: Niese fans seven over 7 1/3 scoreless frames

WASHINGTON -- For six innings, Jon Niese and Edwin Jackson dueled back and forth on the Nationals Park mound. But after Ike Davis' two-run homer in the seventh inning, the Mets had all the offense they needed in a 2-0 win over the Nationals on Saturday night.

Both pitchers matched zeros through the sixth, with Jackson especially dominant. The Nats' right-hander allowed one hit until Davis came to the plate. On the first pitch after David Wright walked, Davis ripped a 93-mph two-seam fastball the opposite way, just over the wall adjacent to the Mets' bullpen in left field for his second homer in three days. Davis added a single in the ninth to finish the night 2-for-4.

"I wasn't trying to go anywhere, I was just trying to hit the ball," Davis said. "We didn't really do a great job of that tonight, partly because [Jackson] was so nasty. But he left a fastball up and away, I hit it on the barrel, and it got out of there."

With Niese battling into the eighth inning, Davis' blast was all the offense the Mets required. New York's left-hander surrendered five hits over his seven scoreless innings, striking out seven while walking none. The outing extended Niese's scoreless-inning streak to 15 1/3 innings, the longest of his five-year career.

"It seems like when you need him most, he's stepped up," manager Terry Collins said. "He'll have a so-so outing, then he'll have a real good one. Tonight, he knew we needed him again, and he gave us a great, great outing."

"You have to tip your hat to Niese," Nationals manager Davey Johnson added. "He really had a big sweeping cutter that he was using. It was kind of a new pitch, and the guys had a hard time centering on it. He pitched one heck of a ballgame."

In front of the second-largest crowd in Nationals Park history, a sold-out 42,662, the Mets jumped on Jackson when Mike Baxter tripled in the first. But the Washington righty escaped the inning unscathed and proceeded to retire 17 of the next 18 batters he faced, with only an error by shortstop Ian Desmond allowing Ruben Tejada to reach base in the third.

Jackson struck out 11 Mets and walked just one before exiting after seven innings.

Niese, meanwhile, also escaped trouble in the first. With one out, Danny Espinosa and Ryan Zimmerman knocked back-to-back singles, but were ultimately stranded. After retiring six straight over the second and third innings, including three strikeouts, Niese allowed one hit in each inning from the fourth through the sixth.

In total, Niese lowered his ERA to 3.49, second only to R.A. Dickey in the Mets' rotation.

"It was just another one of those nights where everything felt good," Niese said. "When I had to throw a first-pitch curveball, I was able to command it. Even some back-door curveballs at times. I believe working inside helped a lot, too."

A hitless seventh got Niese into the eighth, where he forced pinch-hitter Bryce Harper to fly out to center before Jon Rauch entered in relief. Niese had thrown 109 pitches by that point, though he has thrown at least that many five other times this season. Given the Mets bullpen carries MLB's worst ERA (5.05), Collins' decision to pull Niese seemed somewhat premature.

"We talked about it, but with [the Nats] coming up for the fourth time that deep in the game, they can strike fast and strike quick," Collins said. "I wanted Espinosa to hit left-handed, so I thought I'd make the move."

Rauch retired both batters he faced in the eighth before Frank Francisco came on to record his 20th save in the ninth. Given his poor numbers since coming off the disabled list on Aug. 3 -- six runs on eight hits over 2 2/3 innings -- Francisco's 14-pitch, 1-2-3 outing was a relief. Zimmerman did launch a line drive deep toward the right-field corner, though Baxter's terrific catch crashing into the wall kept the leadoff man from reaching.

"I noticed that my fastball was flat," Francisco said of his recent outings. "I had good velocity, but everything was flat. I was missing my spot. Today, I didn't miss my spot -- not even once."

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