By MIKE FITZPATRICK
AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) _ Now that Ryan Howard has left town, the New York Mets can breathe a sigh of relief. They still need to find some offense, though.
Howard snapped a seventh-inning tie with a pinch-hit double, Cole Hamels earned his first win of the season and the Philadelphia Phillies took advantage of a crucial error by catcher John Buck to beat New York 5-1 on Sunday and finish a three-game sweep.
The Mets managed five runs and 14 hits in the series, concluding their 3-6 homestand with a whimper. They batted .186 with 81 strikeouts against the Nationals, Dodgers and Phillies.
“We came into this really the last six games swinging the bats great. I do not have an answer for it, I really and truly don’t,” manager Terry Collins said. “Preparation was good, the weather was good _ we certainly can’t complain about that.”
Jonathon Niese (2-2) allowed one earned run in 6 2-3 innings, showing no ill effects from the comebacker that hit him near the right ankle and knocked him out of his previous start Tuesday. The left-hander was lifted after 117 pitches, and once again Philadelphia jumped all over an awful Mets bullpen that entered the day ranked next-to-last in the majors with a 5.28 ERA.
New York has lost a season-high four straight and nine of 12 overall.
“It was the first time this year I could pitch without sleeves on,” said Niese, who appreciated the 66-degree weather. “It felt good. I was able to pound the zone with all of my pitches for the most part.”
Rested by Phillies manager Charlie Manuel in the midst of a hitting tear, Howard got his chance anyway against reliever Scott Atchison and drove a two-run double off the center-field fence to give Philadelphia a 3-1 lead.
Howard has 23 RBIs in his last 13 games against the Mets, including seven in this series.
All-Star catcher Carlos Ruiz went 1 for 4 with a double in his return to the Phillies from a 25-game amphetamine suspension. Even on the road, the popular Ruiz was greeted warmly with a chorus of “Choooooch,” and one fan held a sign welcoming him back.
Freddy Galvis homered, Chase Utley had an RBI single and Hamels (1-3) overcame six walks, which matched his career high. The left-hander held the Mets to two hits and struck out eight over six innings in his fourth consecutive solid outing.
The 2008 World Series MVP was so frustrated with his command that he screamed into his glove in the fourth, when he walked the bases loaded before striking out Niese to end the inning.
“I was able to get away with it. But it’s not the best type of game for me,” Hamels said. “I would much rather have liked to go deeper in the ballgame.”
Working with his regular batterymate for the first time this season, Hamels helped Philadelphia to its first series sweep since last September _ also at Citi Field. The Phillies have won nine of 10 against the rival Mets since Aug. 30.
Hamels was pulled for pinch-hitter Laynce Nix with two outs in the seventh and appeared headed for a no-decision when Nix hit a twisting popup in foul territory. The ball came down near the Phillies dugout, but Buck was never able to settle under it. He tried to make a basket catch and the ball popped out of his mitt for an error.
“I should have had it,” Buck said. “Just missed it.”
Nix and Jimmy Rollins followed with sharp singles, chasing Niese. Collins called on Atchison, so Manuel brought Howard off the bench. The big slugger tagged a 2-0 pitch and watched it fly at first, thinking it was gone.
“I knew they were going to put Howard in, but Scott Atchison’s breaking ball is really difficult to hit, I don’t care who it is,” Collins said. “His issue is he fell behind and tried to sneak a fastball by him. Didn’t get it in, didn’t make the pitch.”
Utley followed with his run-scoring single, and John Mayberry Jr. added an RBI double in the eighth off Brandon Lyon.
“We were out of the inning. We didn’t make the play,” Collins said. “At our level, you give good teams extra outs, they’re going to do some damage.”
Antonio Bastardo, Mike Adams and Jonathan Papelbon finished the three-hitter for Philadelphia.
Ruben Tejada hit a leadoff double in the first against Hamels and scored on David Wright’s single. Galvis reached down and golfed a low curveball over the left-field fence in the fifth for his second home run of the season.
NOTES: Hamels improved to 6-10 in 22 games against the Mets. … Wright bobbled Ruiz’s easy grounder in the first, ending a 77-game errorless streak that was the longest by a Mets third baseman. It also had been the longest active run for any third baseman in the majors. New York finished with a season-high three errors, one by Niese. … Wright was back in the No. 3 spot in the lineup after batting cleanup the previous two games. … Mets RHP Matt Harvey (4-0, 1.54 ERA) faces Miami rookie Jose Fernandez (0-2, 4.50) on Monday night in a matchup of elite young arms.