Remember when Michael Kay used to love trotting out that old nursery rhyme, the one about the little girl with the curl? It seemed that every time A.J. Burnett took the mound, Kay would introduce him with a twist on those lines. “When he is good, he is very, very good, but when he is bad, he is awful.” Well, A.J. Burnett is long gone, but in his place we have Nathan Eovaldi, a young pitcher also in possession of an electric arsenal, but also tantalizingly inconsistent.
He opened the game in rather shaky form, yielding a leadoff homer to Curtis Granderson and then a double to Daniel Murphy to score another run, spotting the Mets a 2-0 lead over the Yankees in the third gave of the season’s first Subway Series.
But Alex Rodríguez split that deficit in half when he bounced a solo home run off the top of the wall in right center field in the bottom of the first. It was A-Rod’s 659th career home run, one shy of Willie Mays for fourth place on the all-time list, and the Yankee front office buried their heads in the sand just as Rodríguez rounded third. If they don’t see him hit the home runs, it will be as if he hasn’t hit them. Brian Cashman and the Yankees went down to the crossroads with A-Rod to sign that incentive-laden contract, hoping to capitalize on his march up the all-time home run list, but now that it’s finally happening, they’re hoping to wash their hands of the whole thing. You know. Because they thought he was clean the whole time and were shocked – shocked! — to find out there was something fishy going on.
They say they can’t market this chase, but they know they can. They need only look back to the Barry Bonds Love Fest to see that home town fans will always cheer their heroes. The truth is that they don’t like the contract they forced themselves into offering him seven years ago, and now they don’t want to pay their Six Million Dollar Man. Perhaps they’ll figure it out by the time he catches up to the Babe in 2016.
But back to our game. Eovaldi returned to the mound in the second inning and tucked the curl back underneath his cap. He dispatched the Mets on twelve pitches, retiring the final two hitters on strikes (he’d also strike out the first two batters of the third), reminding us why it’s always foolish to give up on a 25-year-old who can throw 98 miles per hour.
It was in the bottom of the second that the parade of doubles began when John Ryan Murphy ripped a line drive down the left field line with one out. Then with two outs, someone named Gregorio Petit (I still can’t convince myself that Gregorio Petit plays second base for the New York Yankees) doubled to left scoring Murphy. Then Brett Gardner doubled to right to score Petit. After Chris Young squirted a single into shallow right to score Gardner, Rodríguez rifled the fourth Yankee double of the inning into the left field corner, scoring Young and giving New York a 5-2 lead.
After Eovaldi opened the third with the double strikeout mentioned above, he started giving up doubles of his own, one to Michael Cuddyer and another to Daniel Murphy, each scoring a run and cutting the Yankee lead to 5-4. The Yankees picked up another run in the fifth to make it 6-4, and then things got late in a hurry for the Mets.
Eovaldi was pulled with one out in the fifth, leaving 14 outs for the Yankee bullpen, but they were nearly flawless over those final four and two-thirds. Chasen Shreve took up the baton first, and he hit Lucas Duda with his first pitch. No matter. Three pitchers later Cuddyer bounced into an easy 4-6-3 to end the inning. Shreve started the sixth by walking Murphy, but that didn’t matter either. Chris Martin came in to get five easy outs before giving way to Justin Wilson, who got the final batter in the seventh.
The game was essentially over at that point, because all that remained was the double-headed monster at the back end of the Yankee bullpen. Dellin Betances needed just 11 pitches to strike out three Mets in the eighth, but the inning continued because that eleventh pitch, a wicked curve ball to Cuddyer, bounced to the backstop after the swing and miss, allowing Cuddyer to reach first. I was rooting hard for the 4K inning, but Murphy tapped out harmlessly to second to end the frame. How good has Betances been in the Subway Series in his short career? The Mets are 0 for 9 with eight strikeouts. Not bad.
Next in line was Andrew Miller. He plunked Wilmer Flores with one out but then got the next two to send everyone home. Yankees 6, Mets 4.
So both the Yankees and the Mets leave this series as they entered, in first place in their respective divisions. That’s good for the Mets, I suppose, but I’m more interested in what it might mean for the Yankees. Last year every single question mark heading to the season turned into an ellipses. Could it be that this year’s questions might become exclamation points? Sure, it’s only been 19 games, but Mark Teixeira! Alex Rodríguez! Michael Pineda! Andrew Miller! Things are certainly looking better than most expected.