It was the alternate universe of the Mets' nightmares. For the Yankees, it was one step closer to the dream scenario they need to snatch the AL East title from right under the Blue Jays.
CC Sabathia, the 35-year-old with only one good knee, outlasted Matt Harvey, the 26-year-old with a surgically repaired elbow, as the Yankees eventually feasted on the Mets bullpen for an 11-2 win in the rubber game of the Subway Series at Citi Field on Sunday night.
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The sixth inning was the Mets' true first taste of a world without Harvey, who was limited to only five. In that frame, there were five runs, two errors and a big, booming three-run homer by Dustin Ackley. The Mets' one-run lead was long gone, the Nationals had already won, and about every Mets fan in the stands began fretting like it was 2007. The Yankees, meanwhile, drew to within 2 1/2 games of first-place Toronto, where they go for three games starting Monday night.
"I think you want a chance," Joe Girardi said. "That's all you can ask for in this game, that you have an opportunity that's in front of you. We have to play well there. We haven't played particularly well against this club and we know they're extremely dangerous, but we need to go have a good series."
Harvey, who was on a strict innings limit, cruised through five, striking out seven, allowing one infield hit and a walk before dejectedly huffing and puffing his way to the bench with a 1-0 lead. And the Yankees were more than primed to pounce.
With Hansel Robles in for Harvey, Jacoby Ellsbury hit a ball to second base that Daniel Murphy barehanded and threw away for an infield single and an error. Brett Gardner tried to sacrifice Ellsbury to third, but Robles attempted to cut off the lead runner, and threw to David Wright, who dropped the toss. An old-school collapse seemed imminent, and the new-school Mets obliged.
Carlos Beltran doubled to the wall in right-center -- Juan Lagares failed to get a good jump on it -- and both runners scored. Beltran advanced to third on a wild pitch, Greg Bird walked and, with two outs, Ackley hit a 1-and-0 fastball to right for a three-run homer and a 5-1 lead.
Erik Goeddel walked Chase Headley with the bases loaded in the seventh and the Yankees tacked on five more in the eighth, three on Bird's homer off Tim Stauffer.
"It's hard" to sit your pitchers, a prophetic Terry Collins said before the game. "We've waited since I've been here, so we've waited five years to be in this situation and now you've got your No. 1 pitcher, who you've got to watch what he does . . . You suck it up and move on and get ready for the next day."
Sabathia allowed back-to-back doubles to Ruben Tejada and David Wright to give the Mets the 1-0 lead, but the lefty, who has allowed only two earned runs in three starts since returning from the disabled list, settled down masterfully after that. He allowed five hits in six innings, with three walks (one intentional) and seven strikeouts.
"No matter what, I knew I was coming back," Sabathia said. He said he was motivated to return because "what I look back on is the failures, like in 2007," when, as the Indians ace, he saw his team fall in the ALCS. "That's what drives me more than anything -- not letting my team down."
His tenacity paid dividends against the handcuffed Harvey, whom Girardi said was "throwing the ball really well."
"When a guy's on a pitch count and it's Matt Harvey, you're trying to get him out as soon as possible," he said.
Harvey threw only 77 pitches, 51 for strikes.
"When he reaches the innings limit that we set, he's out," Collins said. "Whether it's 40 or 85 [pitches], it ain't going to matter." That's the world the Mets must live in now: a world with Matt Harvey, but not enough of him to go around.