The relatively unknown right-hander effectively silenced the Bombers' bats in an exceptional fill-in start. Omir Santos homered and drove in three runs against an ineffective Andy Pettitte as the Mets defeated the Yankees, 6-2, on Saturday.
Nieve had almost no familiarity with the pinstriped lineup, but opposed by the momentum of the previous night's thrilling Yankees walk-off, he helped the Mets bounce right back. The Bombers had few answers for the neophyte right-hander, who limited them to two runs and worked into the seventh inning.
"He pitched to contact and made us hit the ball," Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "We hit the ball right at people. They played great defense today. The Mets played a good game today. Sometimes you get beat, and we got beat."
Pettitte surrendered five runs to the Mets in a troublesome outing, matching his season high with 12 hits allowed and lasting only five innings as the Yankees continue to dip into their bullpen early.
"It was obviously a horrible start for me," Pettitte said. "It's frustrating, after the big win we had last night, to come out and pitch the way I did and only give us five innings. I feel like I'm doing a fairly decent job of getting ahead of people and I'm not able to put guys away."
Santos touched Pettitte for a two-run homer in the second inning, and the Mets added three more in the fifth as Gary Sheffield, Santos and Fernando Tatis drove in runs against the left-hander, who fell to 8-5 in 19 regular-season starts against the Mets.
The Yankees acknowledged they were lucky to come away with a victory on Friday in a game they should have lost, with second baseman Luis Castillo flubbing an Alex Rodriguez popup that allowed two runs to score in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Adding that game in with a three-game sweep at Fenway Park earlier in the week and Saturday's defeat, manager Joe Girardi said that his club has obviously not performed up to its caliber over this recent stretch of games.
"We haven't played too well," Girardi said. "We haven't pitched, we haven't really hit a whole lot. Over this little five-game stretch, we have not played very well. We've had a chance to win some games that we didn't; we struggled with runners in scoring position in Boston (3-for-38). Today we didn't hit at all, so it's been a combination."
Without his trademark cutter responding, Pettitte needed 104 pitches to navigate the Mets' lineup, walking one and striking out three while getting into long counts. He said that he had some problems catching his breath in the second inning, when Santos homered and Pettitte had to grind to strand two other men aboard.
That gassed feeling eventually went away, but without the cutter to lean on, he still has only managed to complete 21 innings in his past four starts.
"If it's not working, you've got to go to something else and get them out with other pitches," Pettitte said. "It's just a poor job by me to recognize it and make the adjustment and get them out with other stuff."
Girardi dismissed the suggestion that some of Pettitte's struggles could be attributed to high mileage. The veteran turns 37 next month.
"When he was pitching great, no one mentioned his age," Girardi said. "I don't think it's the beginning of the end. I think Andy will know when it's time for him to retire, but it's not like he's 42."
Five runs off Pettitte was more than enough support for Nieve, making his first start in a Mets uniform and just the 12th of his Major League career.
Challenging the Yankees aggressively, Nieve limited them to two runs -- one on an Alex Rodriguez second-inning homer -- through 6 2/3 innings, permitting four hits while walking two and striking out two.
"He went out there and pounded the strike zone," Johnny Damon said. "Those are the guys that seem to give our team problems, guys that go out and throw strikes. We like to take pitches, we like to put the other pitcher behind in the count.
|"We went through a hot streak where you expect to win every single game. That doesn't happen in baseball. We've just got to come out tomorrow and try to win a series."|
|-- Mark Teixeira|
"It seems like the guys we've never seen before are pounding the strike zone and we're getting tougher pitches to hit after they're ahead. Hopefully someday we can change that trend."
The 26-year-old Nieve was in command until the seventh, when Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner chased him with back-to-back singles. Derek Jeter beat out an infield single to the right side against Sean Green, scoring Cabrera with the Yankees' second run, but Green escaped further damage to hold it there.
"We did not swing the bats," Girardi said. "We only had two hits through six innings and it's hard to win a game like that."
Sheffield put the Mets up by five runs in the seventh against Alfredo Aceves, ripping his seventh home run -- and second in as many games -- over the left-field wall to punctuate the contest against his former team.
The final seven Yankees batters went in order as Francisco Rodriguez -- hours after receiving his first blown save in a Mets uniform because of Castillo's error -- fired a perfect ninth inning to quiet the crowd and complete the cooling effect.
"You play 162 games, and sometimes you're going to go through spells where you don't win every single night," Teixeira said. "We went through a hot streak where you expect to win every single game. That doesn't happen in baseball. We've just got to come out tomorrow and try to win a series."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.