This was a Subway Series Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium between the Yankees and the Mets, what would be a really good afternoon for the Yankees until it wasn't in the top of the ninth -- when Albertin Chapman would lose the strike zone and nearly lose the game --
This was a Subway Series Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium between the Yankees and the Mets, what would be a really good afternoon for the Yankees until it wasn't in the top of the ninth -- when Albertin Chapman would lose the strike zone and nearly lose the game -- until it finally was when Chasen Shreve had to close for the Yankee closer and their team finally won, 7-6.
It meant that the Yankees did not see their record fall to 8-8 since they had beaten the Red Sox, 11-1, on the first Sunday of July. And it meant that the Yankees would do something that they hadn't done since July 1, which means pick up a game on the Red Sox, who would lose to the Tigers later.
So this was a good day and fun day to walk around the new Yankee Stadium and ask Yankee fans -- who rose up at the end of last season the way their team did as it made a run at the team's first World Series in nine years -- just what they want their general manager, Brian Cashman, to do at the non-waiver Trade Deadline.
All GMs of contending teams face challenges at this time of year. Cashman, who replaced Joe Girardi, the manager who took his team to within a win of the Series last October, is fighting a two-front war:
Fighting to give his team its best chance in October.
Fighting to get ahead of the Red Sox and stay ahead and stay out of the Wild Card Game.
"I'll tell you what I want," a Yankee fan named Mike Bruno, originally from East Northport, N.Y., and now from Delray Beach, Fla., said. Bruno was behind Section 120, near the Yankee team store, wearing a blue "Bronx Bombers" T-shirt and white Yankee cap and pointing now in the direction of the Mets' dugout, third-base side of the park. "Give me one of their two best starters."
He was talking about Jacob deGrom, scheduled to pitch Sunday night's finale against the Yankees, and Noah Syndergaard, who had won Friday night's game for the Mets.
"Get me a starter," Bruno said. "I got enough right-handed strikeout guys swinging for the seats."
In a little while Bruno's team would get ahead of the Mets, 4-0, before Aaron Judge would put one in the seats to stretch the lead; and before all the white-knuckle stuff in the ninth that had Yankee fans thinking that they might actually lose two in a row, in their own house, to the Mets. But the starter the Yankees jumped on this day was Steven Matz, who is having a decent enough year, but not the kind of guy the Yankees would face in the Division Series in a couple of months -- even if they win their own division and stay out of the Wild Card Game.
"We hit real good last season in the playoffs," Bruno said, "until we didn't. Look at what [the Astros' starters] did to us at the end."
It was actually three starters for the Astros -- Justin Verlander, Charlie Morton, Lance McCullers -- in the last two games of the American League Championship Series. The Yankees got outscored, 11-1, in Games 6 and 7. Houston pitchers recorded 21 strikeouts in the two games and the Yankees stopped hitting them in the seats and went home.
It is why the real headline for Saturday's game at the Stadium wasn't Judge hitting another one or the Yankees ringing up Matz and some forgettable Mets relievers the way they did. It was that Sonny Gray, the starter Cashman acquired last summer, pitched into the sixth, ended up allowing three runs (two earned) while striking out six, raising his record to 7-7 and lowering his ERA, wait for it, to 5.34. Gray wasn't great. Has rarely been great since the Yankees got him from Oakland. They thought they might have gotten a top-of-the-rotation guy. Gray has been anything but.
Still: What Gray gave the Yankees on Saturday through the first five would be a dream start for them in October, before manager Aaron Boone's bullpen takes over. The problem is this. The Yankees have to make it past the Red Sox between now and the finish line with their ace, Luis Severino (14-2) and these three guys -- unless Cashman makes a deal for a starter:
Carsten Sabathia, who is 6-4 with a 3.51 ERA and has started to turn the third time through a batting order into a minefield lately.
Masahiro Tanaka, who has a 7-2 record but a 4.54 ERA.
The nightmare scenario for the Yankees, of course, is that not only do they end up in the Wild Card Game but that Severino might have to pitch it. It means that even if the Yankees win it, somebody other than Severino might have to start Game 1 of the ALDS -- maybe against Verlander, who shut them down when everything was on the line last season, and nearly shut them out.
The Yankees can really hit and really score. They did it again on Saturday and won a Subway Series game. But they need to arm themselves -- literally -- for the real Series. The coming week will be interesting all over baseball. Nowhere will it be more interesting than 161st St. in the Bronx, as Yankee fans wait to see if their GM swings for the seats.
Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.