David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Shortly after Frank Francisco worked his way out of trouble Friday night during a frenzied ninth inning, his mouth pulled him right back in. Francisco already had referred to the Yankees as chickens, then as crybabies, so he was asked if they had whined at all as he was wrapping up the Mets' 6-4 victory at Citi Field.
"They might be complaining right now," Francisco said, laughing.
Crazy like a fox, perhaps, which would help explain why Francisco made the odd choice of calling the Yankees chickens in the first place. It nearly backfired on him in the ninth, when Francisco needed a sprinting catch from Andres Torres and -- after allowing a walk and a single -- a three-pitch strikeout of Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira's sky-high pop-up to strand the tying runs.
Summing up the experience, Francisco said, "Awesome." But there was some backpedaling on his part as the Mets' closer blamed a "simple comment" on causing the tabloid ruckus.
"Seriously, I got a lot of respect for those guys," he said, "especially [Derek] Jeter. He's a great player and a great guy. I believe that he's a winner. A lot of those guys are very professional. I didn't mean to call them chicken or anything like that."
As insults go, "chicken" is at the top of the G-rated list. It's a favorite of third-graders at recess arguing over kickball. Which is why the Mets didn't get too worked up Friday after learning that Francisco, their affable closer, had described the Yankees as "chickens" that morning in the New York Post.
"I say what I say and I don't feel sorry," Francisco said. "That's what I think. I think they complain too much for everything. You guys don't see it?"
Nice job, Frankie. Rather than try to defuse the PR grenade, he pulled the pin and tossed it back onto the Yankees' laps. That's not standard operating procedure for the Mets, a franchise that can be as self-conscious as a first date. But not this time.
Even Terry Collins, who could have saved face by scolding Francisco, defended the closer. "They're grown men," Collins said. "I don't think you need to stir the pot when you play these guys. They're good enough already. It is what it is and we'll play over it."
Collins was right. By the end of the first inning, the "chicken" chatter had quieted to a peep as the Mets rolled to a 5-0 lead against Andy Pettitte. Was Pettitte just off his game? Were the Mets especially motivated after getting swept in the Bronx two weeks earlier?
Whatever the reason, it was the perfect start for the Mets, who have been playing too well to have this chicken thing follow them around. Justin Turner delivered a two-run single with two outs and Ike Davis hit a three-run homer that deflected off Nick Swisher's glove before clearing the rightfield wall.
For a while, it appeared that Francisco would be spared the save situation. But earlier in the day, he seemed as if he would welcome the chance.
"I don't worry about anything," he said. "If you're afraid to fail, then you don't deserve to be successful. I'm a gambler. I go out there and my goal is to leave everything on the field. If I fail, I fail."
But it's not that simple now. What Francisco did by publicly poking the Yankees is something that sticks to people in the New York sporting world. And in the Subway Series, when colored by those comments, a blown save is no longer just a blown save. It can become a career-changing moment that hatches too many bad puns at your expense.
As David Wright tried to shrug off the drama before the game, somebody asked him how he would like it if that had been his head, not Jeter's, transposed on the chicken's body.
Wright smiled. "Never a dull moment," he said.