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Mets Hop to Bounce Back Against Giants' Zito

(Sports Network) - How the New York Mets fare on the road over the season's second half could ultimately determine the team's postseason fate. After being shut out in the opener of an important West Coast swing on Thursday, Jerry Manuel's squad will attempt to bounce back in tonight's matchup with the surging San Francisco Giants from AT&T Park.

The Mets put themselves squarely in the National League playoff mix by generating a 48-40 record at the All-Star break, but most of that success has come in their own ballpark. New York has gone an outstanding 30-16 at Citi Field thus far in 2010, but is just 18-25 on the road for the year.

New York is in the midst of an 11-game trip against NL West foes and began the trek on a down note, falling 2-0 to the Giants and All-Star Tim Lincecum on Thursday.

Lincecum (10-4) scattered six hits -- all singles -- and walked just one batter in registering his first complete game of the season and fourth career shutout. The two-time reigning NL Cy Young Award honoree was in control from the outset and finished the night throwing 77 of his 110 pitches for strikes.

"The best thing was he was commanding his fastball," Giants catcher Buster Posey said of Lincecum. "He threw his fastballs and got ahead. When he needed to go to his changeup or the out pitch, he did a good job of keeping it down."

Lincecum was able to outduel Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (6-3), who was reached for only one run on five hits over his seven innings of work. The right-hander gave up a two-out double to Pablo Sandoval that plated Posey in the bottom of the second.

Posey later knocked in an insurance run and went 2-for-4 at the plate to extend his hitting streak to nine games. The rookie standout is batting a scorching .514 (18-for-35) with five homers and 15 RBI during the tear, which has raised his season average to .355.

Aaron Rowand also finished 2-for-4 with a run scored for the Giants, winners of seven of their past eight contests. Thursday's triumph moved the club within 1 1/2 games of Colorado's lead in the NL Wild Card race and 3 1/2 of idle San Diego for first place in the West Division.

The Mets, who have now dropped four of five, are also 1 1/2 games off the pace in the Wild Card chase and fell to five games back of NL East-leading Atlanta after the Braves topped Milwaukee on Thursday.

New York did have the services of center fielder Carlos Beltran for the first time this season in last night's loss, with the five-time All-Star going 1- for-4 in his long-awaited return from offseason knee surgery.

"I thought he had some good at-bats," said Manuel of Beltran. "For the first time facing a major league pitcher of that stature, I thought he had some pretty good [at-bats]."

Shortstop Jose Reyes sat out a second straight contest for New York due to an oblique strain, however, and it's uncertain as to whether the speedy leadoff hitter will be able to play this evening as well.

Beltran and his Mets teammates will be taking their swings off another former Cy Young recipient tonight, with Barry Zito slated to take the mound for San Francisco. The accomplished left-hander turned in a respectable first half, producing a 7-4 record and a 3.76 earned run average in 18 starts, but has been in a bit of a rut over the season's past month.

Zito went 0-2 with a 5.79 ERA in his final five starts before the break and labored through 4 2/3 innings during a July 8 assignment at Milwaukee, walking six Brewers and allowing two runs while not registering a decision. Five days earlier, the veteran hurler was tagged for six runs and eight hits over 5 1/3 innings by division-rival Colorado.

A return to the friendly confines of AT&T Park could get Zito back on track, considering he's 5-1 with an excellent 2.83 ERA in nine home starts this season and has held the opposition to a .226 average in those games.

The 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner is 2-2 with a 4.28 ERA in five lifetime meetings with the Mets.

New York counters with youngster Jonathan Niese, who helped put his team into contention by delivering an impressive first 2 1/2 months of the season. The rookie southpaw went 6-3 with a 3.61 ERA in his 15 first-half starts, with the Mets having come out on top in 10 of those appearances.

Niese did have a string of five consecutive winning decisions end in his most recent start, although he pitched quite well in that July 7 encounter with Cincinnati. The 23-year-old lasted 7 2/3 innings and struck out eight batters while holding the Reds to three runs in a 3-1 loss.

Prior to that showing, Niese had yielded a mere one run over a combined 13 innings in back-to-back victories over Minnesota and Washington on June 27 and July 2, respectively.

This will be the first career start against the Giants for Niese, who's 3-1 with a 4.24 ERA in six road tests this season.

The Mets had won in nine of their last 12 stops at AT&T Park prior to last night's outcome and took three of four bouts between these teams in San Francisco last season. New York also won two of three games from the Giants at Citi Field back in May.