David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
We figured that brilliant young pitching would be the difference in this Subway Series. And it was in Friday night's Game 1.
For the Yankees.
What? Not the outcome you expected? Neither did we.
But Michael Pineda thoroughly outshined Jacob deGrom, the reigning Rookie of the Year, to lead the Yankees over the Mets, 6-1, and end their crosstown rival's winning streak at 11 games.
Pineda, deploying a nasty slider and diving changeup, allowed five hits and one run in 72/3 innings. Despite the 40-degree temperatures -- weather that troubled him last year -- he beat the Mets at their own game, striking out seven without issuing a walk.
And for all the hype about the Mets' young guns, deGrom, who turns 27 in June, actually is more than six months older than Pineda. After so many obstacles earlier in his career -- the shoulder surgery, the DUI, the pine-tar suspension -- Pineda's solid start this year (3-0) suggests his growing pains may have been valuable lessons. "It just shows that he's matured," Joe Girardi said.
Mark Teixeira provided the early thunder with a pair of two-run homers off deGrom, the first helped by that Yankee-friendly short porch. But it was Pineda who made this night feel hopeless for the Mets, a surging team that arrived in the Bronx with baseball's best record at 13-3.
"You could tell from the first inning," Teixeira said, "that he had his good stuff."
Most observers expected the Mets' roll to continue with deGrom. He showed up with a 0.93 ERA and an 181/3-inning scoreless streak, and he had pitched more like the ace than Matt Harvey, the one with the TV specials and the Batman logo.
And what of Pineda? Despite his own flashes of greatness, he still was best known for last year's pine-tar follies, including the gooey slick on his neck that got him ejected from a Fenway series with the Red Sox.
Since then, Pineda's mission has been twofold: Show that he won't be defined by a few sticky indiscretions and can be the front-end starter who can back up a revived Masahiro Tanaka.
After what he did to the Mets, on that stage, we'd say he took another big step forward. Last year, he reached for gobs of pine tar to combat the chilly temperatures. This season, he's relying more on himself. "I don't think too much about the weather," Pineda said. "I think about trying to make adjustments on the mound and make a good pitch."
It's difficult to pinpoint when the Mets knew they were in trouble with Pineda, but their first look at his biting slider had to be unsettling. He began by striking out four of eight Mets, who didn't get their first hit until Kirk Nieuwenhuis poked a double against the shift that skipped over third base in the third.
Pineda retired 13 of the first 14, and the Mets' biggest threat -- runners on first and third with one out in the fifth -- fizzled.
In that pivotal spot, the Mets had Kevin Plawecki -- the promising young catcher -- at the plate with one out. Unfortunately for them, it was nothing more than a replay of the earlier mismatch between the two.
In the third, Pineda went fastball-changeup to Plawecki for two quick called strikes, then whiffed him on a nasty slider. The next time, he froze him twice with a pair of sliders and got him swinging on a disappearing change. "He had movement on everything," Curtis Granderson said. "Nothing was straight."
Pineda pretty much neutralized the entire Mets lineup, an opportunistic bunch that had relied on tenacious at-bats and timely hits during the winning streak. By not allowing a walk, Pineda refused to help the Mets spark any hope of a rally.
If this is what the Yankees can expect from Pineda, it changes the perception of a rotation most considered suspect. He has been a strike-throwing machine in four starts -- 27 strikeouts, two walks -- and he shaved his ERA from 5.00 to 3.86.
"I feel like he's been great since Day 1," Brian McCann said. "He was dominant last year and he's dominant now."
So Friday night indeed was all about a young pitcher -- but it was Pineda, not deGrom.