One day you're hot, next day you run into the Yanks
NEW YORK -- They played by the same rules they had used throughout their unflawed homestand, save that weird one that has a more accomplished batsman hitting for the pitcher. The distance between the bases was as it had been on the other side of the river, the standard 30 yards. And from the rubber to the plate in the Bronx was as it was in Flushing, 60.5 feet. Even the area code was the same. Must have been the zip code that flummoxed the Mets and put them on the wrong side of the hyphen Friday night, because the results were as different as elephants and glockenspiels from what they had been for 11 games.
Leave it to the Yankees, those killjoys in pinstripes, to be Interleague party poopers. They couldn't be satisfied with the merely scheduled engagement against the hottest team in the hemisphere. Nooo, they wanted more. Bringing in one of their heroes emeritus to throw out the first ball wasn't dressing enough either. So they went well beyond Bernie and the Mets program and put on a whooping on the visitors from the Big Citi. No respect, these Yankees.
Or maybe, with Bernie Williams in the house, they were struck by a bolt of nostalgia and, as a result, treated their crosstown guests as inhospitably as they had when Bernie was wearing the soon-to-be-decommissioned No. 51. The primary reason for the Yanks' ninth victory in 12 games and the Mets' first loss in as many probably was what Bill Virdon identified as "hidden gibberish," aka the law of averages. The big league version of that statute is "the best teams usually lose 60." So though Mets PR assistant Ethan Wilson was boldly envisioning a 159-3 season for his team, the Mets took a fourth step toward 60. They were due.
Just about everything that had gone right for them for the better part of two weeks turned against them in the first foray outside the National League East. If any play exemplified that, it was the two-out double by Didi Gregorius in the eighth. It bounced just inside the first-base line. But Lucas Duda had a chance until the ball stayed down and passed under his glove. The same ground ball hit Monday or Wednesday or last Saturday would have come up and shaken hands with Duda.
Duda grinned as he acknowledged the fickleness of the game. The gibberish wasn't well-hidden on that one.
Evidence that suggested the Mets' streak would be in jeopardy came quite early. The Yankees scored twice in the first inning, when Mark Teixeira became nostalgic for the days when he was a feared slugger from the left side and put one in the second deck in right. He Xeroxed it in the fourth, when the lead jumped to 6-0. A switch-hitter with power; Bernie was one, too.
All the home-team scoring in Yankees 6, Mets 1 came against Jacob deGrom, who had his ears pinned back -- though with his abundant locks, who could tell? -- in five unbecoming innings. This is the guy who had pitched the equivalent of two shutouts between the second run he allowed in his first start April 8 and Teixeira's first second-decker. deGrom is hardly a home run pitcher. He had surrendered eight in his first 159 2/3 big league innings. Three came in five Friday; Jacoby Ellsbury hit one, too.
deGrom said he couldn't get his pitches down until the fifth. The right-field dimensions at the Stadium made for a double whammy.
But deGrom, too, saw the baseball bounce in ways favorable only to the Yanks when it wasn't descending into the stands. He didn't complain. deGrom had won his second and third starts, because the bounces were Mets-friendly. His hair couldn't hide the rueful smile that occurred as he replayed the inauspicious bounces.
Home runs aside, the unseen hand wasn't going to let this one go to the Mets. deGrom wouldn't go that far, he blamed his undisciplined pitches. But he also knew which way the figurative wind was blowing.
Each team is in position for a progression toward the mean now. The Mets hadn't won 11 straight since 1990. And it's worth noting that what followed that streak was a 50-42 sequence that left them four games out of the running. Their 11-game streak in 1972 preceded the calamitous injury to and resulting absence of Rusty Staub that spoiled the season. The two other 11-victory streaks came in in 1969 and '86, seasons that produced World Series championships. Wilson may have lost his shot at 159-3. But 158-4 will work, too.
He clearly has allies with comparable thoughts. The plays that did go the Mets' way Friday were met with boisterous response. When Dave Mlicki shut out the Yankees in the first intracity, Interleague interlude in 1997, it happened in the Bronx at the old place. Steve Jacobson of Newsday noticed the Mets partisans seemingly equalled those folks rooting for the Yanks. He wrote, "The House that Ruth Built was a house divided."
A 1:1 ratio seemed to exist Friday evening, too.
The Yankees, playing .750 ball since their unsettling first five games, are among the 30 teams in the game that will not win 75 percent of their games. Progression toward the mean is such an unforgiving phenomenon. Isn't it? But they have looked quite sharper of late, and they're pitching. And who expected that? Why, they just knocked off the hottest team in the game in a convincing way. But now they must play two games against an opponent that has won 11 of its last 12. And the Mets confront a team that has won nine of 12, most of them on the road. Seems challenging, too. It's not going to be easy for either of them.