David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - A month from now, when the Mets visit the Bronx and the games actually count, a repeat of Sunday's showdown between Matt Harvey and CC Sabathia will give us a Subway Series worth the hype.
In the meantime, we'll try to put what we saw at Tradition Field in perspective, and that is two aces -- one current, one former -- at very different stages of their career arcs.
Keep in mind, this was the Grapefruit League, the practice portion of the calendar. But no meeting between the Mets and Yankees can ever be considered insignificant, especially when Harvey is on the mound.
He continued his post-Tommy John surgery dominance by striking out four in 52/3 scoreless innings and displaying pinpoint command that nobody could have anticipated after an 18-month rehab.
In four starts, Harvey has a 1.26 ERA, with 12 strikeouts and one walk in 141/3 innings. If this is tuning up for the season, it's time to put Clayton Kershaw on notice. And reconsider what we thought we knew about coming back from Tommy John surgery.
"I didn't think I was only going to walk one person," Harvey said, smiling.
Sabathia, making his second start, served up homers to David Wright and Lucas Duda along with an inside-the-park job hit by Juan Lagares. Afterward, Sabathia said he was pleased with the life on a fastball that ranged between 91 and 93 mph.
"I felt a lot better than I did last spring," Sabathia said. "I'd rather get my [butt] kicked like I did today than not give up any runs like last year."
Translation: Sabathia is less concerned with the stats than how his body is responding, which he says is pretty good. The surgically cleaned right knee is holding up, and with his legs sturdy, he's able to generate steady heat with his fastball.
That all sounds great, but the bottom-line issue with Sabathia -- and three-fifths of the Yankees' rotation -- is how long they can remain problem-free.
Going by their resumes, Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda have the potential to form one of the more intimidating trios in the sport.
But Sabathia knows he's on the clock with the degenerative knee condition, and Tanaka -- already pitching with a small UCL tear -- hears the ticking, too. That probably makes Pineda the most reliable of the bunch despite the track records of those returning from shoulder labrum surgery.
So what's it going to be? Meaningful September baseball or a season that's sunk by the All-Star break?
There's simply no way of predicting that. The Yankees' fortunes are tied up in frayed ligaments and muddied by sketchy medical histories.
Sabathia doesn't need to be a Cy Young candidate, but 28 to 30 starts somewhere in the ballpark of his 3.63 career ERA would make the Yankees feel better about the $53 million they owe him through 2016.
It's going to take careful maintenance, and the Yankees have brought Sabathia along very slowly in spring training. Expect that to continue, with the likelihood that he'll be pushed further back in the rotation. He might even require extra rest or tighter pitch counts, the sort of protocol he used to frown upon.
"That's something you have to talk to Joe [Girardi] and Larry [Rothschild] about," Sabathia said. As for the knee, he added, "I'm not worried about it giving out on me."
The Mets have plenty of concerns, but unlike the Yankees, the rotation is not one of them. As long as Harvey continues to pitch like this the Mets will be in a better position to overlook the cracks in Sandy Alderson's roster. And they will dream of a Subway Series that plays out much like Sunday's matchup did, with Harvey making the Mets' crosstown rivals look overwhelmed.
"As a hitter, that's your nightmare," Wright said.
Sunday made us anxious to see what will happen in another month, with both teams, when it all gets real again in the Bronx.