Over 17 1/2 innings, and more than six hours, only one player was booed loudly enough during Tuesday’s Subway Series doubleheader to register a significant decibel level in the Bronx.
And that player wore pinstripes: the Yankees’ Game 2 starter, James Paxton.
We know the Stadium is notorious for harassing its own kind. Just ask Giancarlo Stanton, who was jeered relentlessly last season, his first in the Bronx, when his K-total skyrocketed early on. But when the Mets drop by for their annual visit, most of the in-house vitriol usually is reserved for the guys wearing blue and orange.
Stanton is sitting out this Subway Series, however, as he’s down in Tampa rehabbing with Aaron Judge. And while that didn’t stop the Yankees from pulverizing the Mets, 12-5, in Tuesday’s opener -- by virtue of Gio Urshela, Luke Voit and Gary Sanchez all going deep -- the lingering takeaway from the nightcap was Paxton getting chased off the mound in the third inning by his own disgruntled fan base.
Paxton hadn’t surrendered an earned run in his last four Bronx starts, and entered Tuesday with a 0.34 ERA at home, the best in the majors. Opposing him was the Mets’ de factor ace Jason Vargas, who was 0-7 with a 6.93 ERA in 10 career starts against the Yankees.
This was supposed to be a layup for Aaron Boone & Co. Instead, Paxton got flattened by the Mets -- with Pete Alonso driving the bus -- and Vargas prevailed, spinning his way to a quality start in a 10-4 victory that had to leave the Yankees feeling even worse about their rotation.
Paxton, the supposed No. 2 on this staff, allowed seven hits and six earned runs over 2 2/3 innings, then was booed loudly after handing the ball to Boone. Only J.A. Happ has surrendered as many as six earned runs at the Stadium this season, but Paxton insisted that his previous knee issues were not a factor in Tuesday’s flop.
“I’ve dealt with failure before,” Paxton said. “I’ll bounce back.”
Maybe he should ask Vargas for some advice. Vargas was booed plenty last season at Citi Field during his rough first year with the Mets, but continued his impressive rebound Tuesday by containing the Yankees for six innings (7 hits, 3 runs).
“It’s always nice pitching well,” said Vargas, who now has a 3.68 ERA. “It’s nice pitching well as Yankee Stadium, too. There’s a lot of history that goes along with the organization.”
Vargas outdueling Paxton, by a wide margin, was not the expected outcome, especially after the Yankees outclassed the Mets in Tuesday’s opener, first burying Zack Wheeler, then teeing off on the Mets’ disposable bullpen pieces. Maybe it’s possible that Wheeler could wind up in pinstripes some day, either around the trade deadline or next winter. But on Tuesday, he was a batting tee again, giving up 10 hits, including long home runs to Urshela and Voit.
At that point, we assumed this Subway Series was going to follow the usual script. The Yankees staying on course for a playoff berth. The Mets playing the role of speed bump. Instead, Vargas was, well, Vargas. As his beguiling mix of soft tosses quieted the Yankees’ lineup, Alonso smacked his 22nd homer, with J.D. Davis and Carlos Gomez also enjoying the hitter-friendly Stadium with deep blasts. The Mets also ruined Paxton’s Subway Series debut, to make sure that he was treated more harshly by the Bronx crowd than anyone in their colors.
Still, Boone shrugged off Paxton’s upsetting cameo, saying, “I think he’s close to being the guy we think he is ... I think the pitch package will allow him to take off when he locks it back in.”
Boone’s optimism doesn’t sound all that different from what the Mets repeatedly say about Wheeler, who was victimized Tuesday by some shoddy fielding as well as his usual penchant for serving up home runs. Wheeler (4.87 ERA) lasted only 4 2/3 innings in the opener, matching his shortest outing this season, and seems to be as puzzling as ever. If the Mets don’t climb back into the NL East race, he’s probably their most attractive trade chip, as contending teams presumably will look past Wheeler’s unsettling numbers in the belief they can fix him for a playoff run.
“It’s a tough one to swallow,” Wheeler said.
The good news? Regardless of Subway Series hype, it’s still just one loss, for Wheeler and Paxton. Both teams can now just go on with their lives. Until next month when they meet again at Citi Field.