No need to start spreading the news. The theme to the Yankees-Mets baseball rivalry is as familiar to people as are the lyrics to an old song: All kinds of odd things generally happen. The whole picture can change in a New York minute. And the endings turn out mostly the same.
Terry Collins said before the game that even though he managed against the great 1998 Yankees, the current lineup is the best he ever has seen. "You cannot make a mistake," he said.
Even though the deciding hit was by someone who wasn't in the starting lineup, Eric Chavez's pinch home run in the seventh, and the pitch did not look like much of a mistake to Collins, it all added up to a familiar story: a 4-3 Yankees win.
It was the fourth win for the Yankees in five Subway Series games this year. What's more, it was a case of the chickens coming home to roost for closer Frank Francisco. Having set up this series with a clumsy, language barrier-related reference to the Yankees being "chickens," he suffered an oblique injury before the game and was unavailable. His status for the series finale Sunday night is in question, meaning Saturday night was painful to the Mets in more ways than one.
For a long stretch, the night was as happy for the home team at Citi Field as a chorus of "Meet the Mets." Chris Young was shutting out the Yankees in front of a record crowd of 42,122 and added a two-out RBI single against Ivan Nova, whose 12-game road winning streak is the Yankees' longest since Allie Reynolds in 1949. In the sixth, it was 3-0 Mets. But it was far from over against a club that hits homers the way a sharpshooting basketball team sinks three-pointers.
The Mets barely knew what hit them. Raul Ibañez hit a three-run home run to tie it and two batters later, Chavez hit the first pinch home run of his career against Jon Rauch, who had allowed a walk-off home run to Russell Martin on June 7.
"When you think about our club, our guys are in scoring position when they walk to the plate," Joe Girardi said.
So the Mets could not afford a misplay such as the one Lucas Duda made on Nick Swisher's soft fly to right in the seventh. He broke back and was unable to recover, with the ball getting by him for what was scored as a double. "That's a big game- changer, and it's tough to let a guy down like that when he's pitching that well,'' Duda said.
Ibañez followed with a shot down the rightfield line. "Chris was really dominating us," Chavez said. "Raul picked us up."
Ibañez said, "I think it was a big lift for us, but you know, if we don't have the at-bats prior to that to put us in that situation, you'll never have an opportunity to do that."
Girardi said of Ibañez, "It's just what he has done his whole career."
With Rauch having come in to replace Young, Chavez picked up the Yankees and their fans even more. "Pinch hitting is hard; all you're trying to do is make contact," Chavez said after lining an 0-and-2 pitch down the leftfield line. "More than anything, I thought it was going to go foul."
Instead, it went out. "He takes a panic swing and somehow barrels it,'' Rauch said. "I think everybody in this clubhouse is amazed he was able to do that with that pitch. You take it as it is.''
But what would you expect? "This lineup is second to none, for me," Collins said. "You cannot make mistakes. You have to be able to keep your concentration, and if you make a mistake, you better be able to get over it because you've got another bomber coming up in that lineup. You're looking at an infield, possibly every one of them is going to the Hall of Fame."
Oddly, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez each made an error behind Nova, who had not been on the mound for a Yankees error all season. Other oddities: Ibañez's hit came with runners in scoring position (a Yankees weakness) and the homer-challenged Mets went ahead with Kurt Nieuwenhuis' homer in the third.
The last word, though, wasn't the one familiar to Mets fans, "Put it in the books." It was the more familiar one in this series: "Thuuuuuuh Yankees win."