Sometimes, the mouse eats the hawk.
So it went Tuesday night at Citi Field, where an announced number of 42,150 ticket holders can someday tell their grandkids about the night the Mets’ bullpen outpitched the Yankees’.
Yes, this will go down as one of the finest wins of this characteristically disappointing Mets season, 4-2 over the Yankees in this Subway Series resumption. And it happened primarily because their relievers kept the Yankees’ bats quiet, honoring the strong work performed by starter and trade bait Zack Wheeler, whereas the late-inning crew of the visitors took the baton from a gutsy James Paxton and, contrary to their reputation, dropped it.
“That’s kind of what we’ve been missing a little bit,” Mickey Callaway, teaching a course in understatement, said of the 2 ²/₃ shutout innings of relief his club received from Justin Wilson (two outs), Seth Lugo (one inning) and Edwin Diaz (one inning, for his 18th save). “They did a great job tonight.”
On the other side, you heard the laments of Yankees reliever Zack Britton, who served up Michael Conforto’s eighth-inning, game-winning, two-run double: “I’m frustrated with that. I’ll be prepared for the first-pitch swing the next time.”
Conforto’s swing on Britton’s first pitch of his appearance, a sinker that didn’t sink much, sailed into the left-center field gap, scoring pinch-runner Juan Lagares and Robinson Cano with the go-ahead runs. Britton said the Yankees’ charts indicated Conforto was extremely unlikely to swing at the first pitch, yet you could see Conforto trying to mix it up — opposing his instincts, a la George Costanza when he orders chicken salad on rye rather than tuna on toast — and being aggressive.
“I throw Britton in about a tough a spot as you can be in, and [I] really thought he came in and threw the ball fine,” Aaron Boone said. “He pitched to contact and Conforto got him. Tip your cap.”
While Britton sealed the Yankees’ fate, his bullpen buddy Adam Ottavino put Britton in that spot, with an assist from the team’s most valuable player, DJ LeMahieu.
After LeMahieu threw wildly on Pete Alonso’s leadoff ground for an error, J.D. Davis tied the game by ripping a 3-and-2 slider to center field, where it evaded the diving effort of Aaron Hicks, who had been shaded to right-center. Alonso cruised home.
“The location wasn’t horrible,” Ottavino said, “but I think I should’ve done a better job with the previous pitches. I had him [0-2] and missed on the ones that I needed to hit on, either to freeze him or to get him to chase. So on 3-2 there, I tried to come at him. He was looking for it and put a good swing on it.”
Ottavino felt even worse about giving up the one-out single to Wilson Ramos, on a 1-and-1 slider, that loaded the bases and set up the Britton-Conforto matchup.
“That wasn’t a very good pitch,” Ottavino said. “I kind of want that one back. Obviously the game’s tied there, but I’m trying to limit it right there so we can take the lead. That pitch kind of backed up. That was more of a hanger than the one to Davis. It was in a bad location, in my opinion.”
Boone acquitted Ottavino of any serious wrongdoing and said of him and Britton, “Those guys, especially lately, we’ve leaned on them heavily.” Ottavino has appeared in 39 games and Britton 38 — and Tommy Kahnle 39 — and with Dellin Betances’ return anything but a guarantee, Brian Cashman might have to acquire another reliever as well as another starter to ease the burden.
The Yankees entered the night tied with Cleveland for the third-best bullpen in baseball, owning 3.7 wins above replacement as per FanGraphs. The Mets? No. 28, with -0.6. Yet Diaz overcame a leadoff single by Didi Gregorius in the ninth by retiring the next three guys, and the Mets could celebrate a rare good one.
“We’re gonna lose some games late sometimes,” Paxton said. “But it doesn’t happen very often with the guys we have out there.”
When it does, the mouse understandably feels awfully good about itself.
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