David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
The new-look Mets really aren't that new anymore. They've been this way for more than six weeks, ever since Sandy Alderson transformed the roster from yapping terrier to top dog in the National League East.
But to the Yankees, who last set eyes on their Flushing pals in late April, they were barely recognizable. Longtime foe David Wright was back Friday night, as was the vaguely familiar Travis d'Arnaud, two regulars who were on the disabled list for that earlier Subway Series in the Bronx.
Beyond that, the Yankees now had to deal with some fresh faces inserted into this rivalry, from Yoenis Cespedes to Juan Uribe to the precocious rookie, Michael Conforto. Rebooting a roster midseason had always been more of a Steinbrenner family trademark, ponying up the cash in trades to double-down on a September playoff push.
That didn't happen this year, however, as all the wheeling-dealing went down at the other end of the RFK Bridge. And while the Yankees took notice of the Mets' makeover, it wasn't something they had to concern themselves with until the Subway Series opener at Citi Field.
Leading up to that first pitch, Joe Girardi gave the usual platitudes regarding Alderson's handiwork. But in the simplest terms, the Yankees manager spelled out the difference in these Mets. "They've gotten better," Girardi said.
Notice he didn't single out Cespedes or Wright or any other Met by name, because this lineup isn't a single-engine machine. They are a sum of their parts -- some new, some old -- and Friday night, the Yankees found themselves in the unfamiliar position of being outgunned by their little brother from the neighboring borough.
The Mets relied on solo homers by two of their more senior members, Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy, then got a two-run blast by the newcomer Uribe in a pinch-hitting role in a 5-1 win. That's 29 homers in the last 17 games for the Mets, who are as capable of bashing teams as wearing them out.
As close as this game was through seven innings -- by virtue of a tightly contested battle between Masahiro Tanaka and Steven Matz -- the Mets had an undeniable lineup edge on paper before a pitch was even thrown. Then it played out that way, even with an 0-fer by Cespedes.
"Certainly Yo has been brilliant with what he's done," Terry Collins said afterward. "But there's other guys getting big hits, too. It's part of the team effort. It's going to take a lot more than one guy to get us to the end."
With the lefty Matz on the mound, Girardi chose to sit the slumping Jacoby Ellsbury and give Brian McCann a breather. Minus the DH, that meant no Alex Rodriguez, as Girardi doesn't want to risk putting a glove on him. The result was a stripped-down lineup that featured former Met Chris Young batting cleanup and Brendan Ryan playing over the power bat of Stephen Drew.
Those were major concessions by Girardi, but as usual, his logic appeared sound. He prefers to take a longer view, and the opportunity to get McCann two days off was deemed crucial before wrapping the season with 17 consecutive games without a break. Ellsbury had been so bad lately (3-for-38) that Girardi really didn't need much of a reason to give him a seat.
As for the Mets, Collins had his unknown quantity in Duda, the former power threat who hadn't left the park since Aug. 2, a stretch of 66 at-bats. Collins had even suggested Duda's job was at risk if he didn't snap out of his funk.
Almost on cue, in the second inning, Duda tied the score at 1 by crushing a flat splitter for a long homer. In the fourth, he ripped a double to rightfield. And as the Mets well know, a confident Duda is a dangerous Duda. "Just trying to get my timing back," he said. "I felt a little better and we'll go from there."
That's now eight wins for the Mets in the last 12 games against the Yankees. Yet another aspect of this new dynamic to an old rivalry.