The Mets didn’t leave the Bronx with a victory Tuesday night. Jacoby Ellsbury and Gary Sanchez made sure of that by each going deep off Jacob deGrom in the Yankees’ 5-4 win, their second of this Subway Series.
But Terry Collins & Co. did head home with a few nice parting gifts, something to smile about before the next two games at Citi Field. They got a pair of huge home runs from their dynamic rookie duo of Dominic Smith and Amed Rosario, with the latter carrying the added bonus of denting the psyche of Aroldis Chapman, the Yankees’ embattled closer, who had the misfortune of hurting his right hamstring on the game’s final out.
Other than bragging rights for the next 24 hours, what did a victory matter anyway? We’re not talking magic numbers here. For those who bleed orange and blue, thirsting for the NextGen Mets to plant their flag in preparation for 2018, this was a decent consolation prize. And did we mention torpedoing Chapman’s confidence in the process?
First it was Smith, who took Sonny Gray to the opposite field, belting a 91-mph two-seam fastball over the wall in left for a two-run homer in the seventh. That also carried the extra satisfaction of knocking out Gray in trimming the deficit to 4-2. The Mets haven’t had all that much to celebrate this season, so they’ll take what they can get, and that goes double for the rookie pals. Rosario said he was so happy for Smith that it was “Almost as if I had hit it myself.”
The real prize came in the ninth inning, and in the most unlikely of scenarios. The Yankees called on a rested Chapman — who had the previous night off after Sunday’s meltdown — and he dispatched Wilmer Flores on six pitches, the final one an 87-mph slider foul-tipped into Gary Sanchez’s glove.
Chapman’s last three pitches to Flores were sliders, along with the first two balls to pinch hitter Jose Reyes. But Reyes got his bat on a 101-mph fastball, punching it to the right side for an infield single. That brought up his buddy Rosario, just 14 games into his major-league career, after having struck out 16 times in his previous 46 at-bats.
As mismatches go, this was a biggie, and Rosario watched the opening slider for a strike. When the next two pitches missed the zone, and Rosario showed unusual patience in staying off them, he got a pitch he could handle: an 85-mph slider, the mistake Rosario needed.
A quick slash of the bat, and Rosario launched a deep drive that carried into the seats in right-centerfield. Not only was the Stadium stunned, Chapman watched the ball’s flight from the back of the mound, in a crouching position, with his elbows on his knees.
“In that situation I’ve got to try to cut down on the pressure,” Rosario said through his translator. “I went out there looking for his hardest pitch and I hit his slowest pitch.”
Rosario’s exhilaration was matched only by Chapman’s despair. He just stayed in the crouch, even as Rosario circled the bases, and long after he crossed the plate. By the time he got to his feet, Sanchez was coming out to the mound to console him. Then pitching coach Larry Rothschild. For an experienced closer like Chapman, with eight years in and 197 saves, it was certainly odd behavior.
“You always worry when a guy is searching a little bit,” Joe Girardi said afterward. “Is it frustration, is it confidence? But yeah, you’re concerned.”
The damage didn’t end there. Chapman needed a great defensive play by Didi Gregorius for the second out, then hurt his right hamstring sprinting off the mound to cover first base for the game-ender.
Chapman could be seen grimacing from his first step, all the way to the bag. Even though the closer tried to shrug it off in the clubhouse later, Girardi was troubled by the injury, saying that “overcompensating” could lead to arm problems. Combine that with Chapman’s struggles lately, and the Yankees’ ample backup at closer, the DL seems logical for him when the Yankees arrive Wednesday at Citi Field.
Coming off a somewhat tainted victory, to be sure.