David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
This almost felt unfair. After winning the first two games of this Subway Series, the Yankees had little use for yesterday's finale. It was like having a 24-ounce porterhouse at Del Frisco's, then heading across town for surf and turf at Smith & Wollensky.
It's great, sure, but not really necessary. So when Russell Martin took Jon Rauch over the leftfield wall for that walk-off homer in Sunday's 5-4 win, the Yankees partied briefly at home plate, took a shower, put on their suits and headed for the chartered plane. No biggie.
"We've been playing well for quite some time now" is how Derek Jeter, Mr. Even Keel himself, summed it up. "I like how we're playing."
Then there are the Mets, who needed a win as desperately as they have at any point this year. Though it's crazy to talk about must-wins in mid-June, this game had greater meaning for several reasons, not the least of which is the torturous stretch that still lies ahead.
By blowing an early 3-0 lead and later wasting a ninth-inning rally -- welcome back, Ike Davis! -- that tied the score, the Mets suffered a sixth loss in seven games as they slipped to three games over .500 (32-29) for the first time since May 24.
And it wasn't just the loss. It was the way it happened, and in the Bronx yet. David Wright's two-out throwing error opened the door for Martin's two-run homer in the seventh. Jeter started an improbable rally in the eighth with a weak chopper that skipped past the glove of a charging Omar Quintanilla. The sucker punch to the gut that Martin delivered in the ninth.
The whole annoying, frustrating mess of an afternoon left the Mets feeling somewhat exploited. "Angry" is how Terry Collins described his team afterward. Actually, the question was more about taking the temperature of his clubhouse, so Collins obliged by saying "hot."
Here's another thing the Mets should be feeling right around now: worried. We'll hold off on panic for the time being, but it's getting close, with three games against the Rays at Tropicana Field coming up starting Tuesday. Next is the Reds at Citi Field, followed by the Orioles and a Flushing rematch with the Yankees.
For what it's worth, the Mets also dropped to 4 1/2 games behind the surging Nationals -- the Mets' largest NL East deficit of the season. More troubling, however, is the team's flawed roster.
Already on their fourth shortstop, the Mets are struggling to find consistent power sources besides Wright, and the bullpen -- with 13 blown saves -- isn't inspiring much confidence. All of those problems were on display.
"We're always angry when we lose," Wright said. "It's probably a game that we should have won and would have liked to have won. But you give a good team an opportunity and you give them extra outs and they're going to find a way to beat you."
Thanks to shoddy defense, the Yankees didn't have to look too hard. In talking about it afterward, they almost felt guilty.
"We caught a few breaks there," Jeter said.
When asked about his team's timely hits -- a bugaboo lately -- Joe Girardi smiled. "Sometimes it's better to be lucky in certain situations," he said.
When sizing up this 2012 edition of the Subway Series, the Mets figured to be a big underdog coming in, despite the recent success of their rotation. Wright has been an island in the middle of the lineup, Davis was struggling and Jason Bay was not being viewed as any sort of savior. The fact that Bay batted eighth in Friday's opener showed just how much confidence the manager has in him.
"Everybody goes through a bad stretch, and this is ours," Collins said. "It didn't matter what move we made, it didn't work. We've got to fight through it and battle through it and pick each other up."
So what happens now? It's business as usual for the Yankees, who are marching steadily toward another meaningful September. The Mets? They're creeping closer to the brink. Time to pump the brakes.