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Citi Field a comfort zone for Vazquez

New York Yankees pitcher Javier Vazquez throws during

New York Yankees pitcher Javier Vazquez throws during the first inning against the Chicago White Sox. (May 1, 2010) Credit: MCT/Christopher Pasatieri

Now here is a matchup that was made in heaven, or, given the New York context, in Hell's Kitchen. The Yankees will open the Subway Series Friday night by handing the ball to their one pitcher who has had the same kind of season the neighboring team has. Javier Vazquez, meet the Mets.

Actually, he knows them, which is partly why he feels comfortable going into Citi Field. He will be going into a National League park, under National League rules, with fresh memories of being a National League Cy Young Award contender as a Brave last season.

"I grew up in the National League and I've always liked that style of game because I get the opportunity to not just pitch but maybe help the team and help myself with the bat," he said before the Yankees played the Rays at Yankee Stadium last night. "I love hitting, man. I miss it."

The former Expo (and Diamondback) does have a career batting average of .207 and once hit .286 for a season. What's more, he enters Friday night on a mini-roll as a pitcher despite his angst-riddled 2010 (2-4 with an 8.01 earned run average). He was good as a starter in a 2-0 loss to the Tigers last week, then achieved a one-out win in relief against the Red Sox on Monday.

"I think it meant something to him," Joe Girardi said of the latter game. "Even though he pitched extremely well in Detroit, he didn't get the win, and I think there's something about getting a win and getting big outs that makes you feel like you really contribute."

Said Vazquez: "I think it was good that I went out there and threw to a hitter, even though it was just one hitter. It feels good to do my job."

For the most part, Vazquez has mystified and frustrated Yankees fans who can't believe he is the same guy who finished fourth in the National League Cy Young voting last year (15-10, 2.87 ERA, 238 strikeouts in 2191/3 innings). He and his team hope that the environment will spark a flashback.

He has seen enough of Citi Field to know it is not a hitter's paradise. He went 1-1 against the Mets last year, with both starts in Atlanta. "But I went there three times," he said of the Mets' park, "and I know it played really nice for the pitchers."

Not much from his first Subway Series as a Yankee in 2004 has stuck with him, other than "obviously, the rivalry is right there." That is, as nostalgic as the surroundings will be for a National League veteran, there will be pressure. "I think it is a big deal," Girardi said.

It has been that way since the first regular-season New York-New York series in 1997. At the time, one Yankee and National League alumnus said, "I know how important it is for the Yankees to beat the Mets. We all know it." The player? Joe Girardi.

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