Blunt reality is that third-string players can prove to be the third rail of sports. In a big moment, the ball seems to seek out that less-experienced, less- established fellow, and his team gets an unpleasant shock.
Ramiro Peña, a 25-year-old Mexican in his third major-league season, filled in at shortstop for the Yankees Sunday because Eduardo Nuñez felt tightness in his right hamstring Saturday and was given the day off. Nuñez, of course, had gone 7-for-8 with four extra-base hits in the first two games against the Mets and has been holding down the position rather nicely while Derek Jeter rehabilitates a strained calf.
Sure enough, with two outs in the bottom of the 10th and runners on first and second in a game tied at 2, a chopper by Daniel Murphy sought out Peña.
An inning earlier, with a runner on second, Peña had let Ruben Tejada's two-out grounder shoot through his legs. If it hadn't been for leftfielder Brett Gardner's throw to catcher Russell Martin that cut down Lucas Duda at the plate, the Mets would have walked off with a 3-2 win right there.
Instead, Peña suffered the indignity of a second error in the 10th, bobbling and then dropping Murphy's two-out ground ball to load the bases and keep the inning alive. The next batter, Jason Bay, delivered the winning single.
"I tried to make a play, but I got in between [hops]," Peña said of the second flub. "It's tough, man. It's tough when you lose. A really bad feeling. But I have to let it go. I don't want to think about it too much. It's weird for me to make two errors, and it's happened again so quick."
He was referring to his three-error game two weeks ago in Cincinnati while filling in for Alex Rodriguez at third base. That was the most committed by a Yankee in a nine-inning game since May 2007.
Perhaps Peña would find reassurance in the knowledge that those 2007 errors were made by Robinson Cano, who Sunday was named to his second consecutive All-Star team.
Also, because life has mostly been a holiday for the Yankees lately -- Sunday's loss was their first in eight games and only their 13th in their last 43 -- Peña's teammates found it easy to be understanding.
"It was a tough play," Cano said. "He's a guy who always makes great plays for us. We're human."
Gardner said of Peña's second error, "To be honest, I don't know if he'd have been able to make the play, anyway" had he fielded the ball cleanly. "That's part of the game."
That, and the fact that the usually untouchable Mariano Rivera surrendered a two-out walk and consecutive singles that allowed the Mets to tie the score in the ninth. "Things happen," Rivera said. "You move on."
For once, the Yankees were short on stops.