Yankees capitalize on Mets' mistakes to win series
Two errors by the Mets in the eighth inning Sunday proved to be crucial as the Yankees squeezed out a victory.
NEW YORK -- Everyone forgot this was only May, and that both teams were barely over .500. Instead, it was October in New York this weekend, where the Mets and Yankees set a three-game attendance record at Shea and turned an interleague matchup into a miniature World Series.
It sure felt that way after the Bombers took 2-of-3, and even the most level-headed members of the team admitted being swept up in the adrenaline rush. "A playoff game" is what Bernie Williams called Sunday's 5-3 victory, which was so important to manager Joe Torre he summoned an injured Derek Jeter off the bench to pinch-run in a critical three-run, eighth-inning rally.
That's when Williams and Hideki Matsui lashed the game-winning hits off Roberto Hernandez -- an especially bitter setback for the Mets. They'd squandered Pedro Martinez' 3-1 lead, thanks to back-to-back errors from David Wright and Jose Reyes, igniting the engines of the Yankees' comeback and reminding the Mets why the climb to respectability is never without bruises.
"We felt we could've swept them," Mets manager Willie Randolph said quietly. He was probably right: errors sabotaged the Mets in Friday night's 5-2 loss, followed by their 7-1 ambush of Randy Johnson on Saturday, after which Pedro mowed down the Yankees for seven innings on Sunday.
So what, exactly, did the weekend teach us? Before that eighth inning, the Mets and Yankees looked dead-even, both in talent and in flaws.
The Yankees' primary concern is Johnson, who was roughed for 12 hits in 6 2/3 innings, and suffered through his poorest outing as a Yankee -- including the embarrassment of allowing reliever Dae-Sung Koo, who hadn't swung a bat since Little League, a 400-foot double to center field. The Mets remarked at how much less dominant the Big Unit was than even a year ago, with his fastball now down to 91-93 mph and his slider lacking its former bite.
Mike Cameron bluntly said, "[Johnson's] not really the same guy he used to be when he was blowing everybody away."
The Yankees ruefully concurred, as Jorge Posada said, "It seemed like he didn't have location at all. If I called for a pitch outside, he threw it in the middle of the plate. He had a lot of plate all day."
Johnson admitted, "I made a lot of mistakes out there. I just had no consistency at all."
The Yankees, fumbling for an explanation over Johnson's decline, will now change their rotation to ensure he pitches every fifth day; the Unit was working on one day's extra rest against the Mets. If that cures Johnson's fastball, the edges of Saturday's loss will be softened. In the meantime, the Yankees have at least generated real-time momentum for next weekend's series against the Red Sox, when they'll learn for sure if the muscles they grew on the West Coast were legitimate.
Torre was clearly treating the Mets as a threat no less real than the Sox. Despite initially dismissing the Subway Series as an annoyance, Torre later was caught up in the eighth inning euphoria in his dugout.
"I was proud of the way we went after it," is what Torre said after the game. His team took full advantage of the Mets' mistakes -- not just the errors in the field, but in Randolph's decision to summon Hernandez instead of, say, Heath Bell, who throws harder, or the reasoning behind pitching to Matsui with runners on second and third instead of intentionally walking him to work on Williams.
|“||When you play good teams and you have a chance to make a play, you have to make the play. It's all about experience, all about learning from your experiences, so they'll be better for it. ”|
|— Mets manager Willie Randolph|
Randolph, however, insisted he never considered a Williams-for-Matsui swap, drawing on years of respect for the aging center fielder.
"Bernie is a pretty good hitter," is all the Met manager had to say. Despite having lost his everyday job two weeks ago, Williams had the composure and bat-speed to smoke Hernandez's down-and-in-fastball into the right field corner, pushing across the go-ahead run and setting off an open-air celebration in the Yankees' dugout.
No one suffered more in that moment than Wright, who jump-started the Yankees' rally by misplaying Tony Womack's grounder leading off the inning. On the very next play, Reyes dropped the feed from second baseman Miguel Cairo on what could've been a rally-killing 4-6-3 double play. As damning as those errors were, however, neither Wright nor Reyes -- and, notably, Randolph as well -- lingered on those errors.
Randolph said, "It's just part of the game. Young players make young mistakes. Physical errors are part of the game. When you play good teams and you have a chance to make a play, you have to make the play. It's all about experience, all about learning from your experiences, so they'll be better for it."
The manager hopes his young players heal quickly. They're beginning a critical six-game road trip to Atlanta and Florida, where even bigger tests await. From May to October and back again, the Mets are about to learn whether that ride will be smooth. Or not.
Bob Klapisch is a sports columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
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