NEW YORK // The New York Yankees finally got a decent start from a pitcher they've been skipping in the rotation, then struggled to score any runs for him. But at least their troubles are limited to the field. The New York Mets have issues in the clubhouse, too, after pitcher John Maine was sent to the disabled list with what the team called a weak right shoulder. The move came hours after Maine was pulled from his start against Washington after five pitches and got into a heated exchange with manager Jerry Manuel in the dugout.
The season isn't two months old, the sweltering summer months still a few weeks off, and already tempers are flaring as both New York teams with two of the highest payrolls in the game try to get their legs under them. The teams are getting a first-hand look at each other this weekend as they meet in an inter-league series. The Yankees snapped a three-game losing streak by winning 2-1 on Friday night in front of a record crowd of 41,382 at the Mets' Citi Field.
"It was exciting Subway Series, big series. It was fun," said rookie Kevin Russo, who drove in both of the Yankees' runs. The Yankees avoided a season-high fourth straight loss thanks to some strong pitching ? for a pleasant change by Javier Vazquez, and an error by Mets second baseman Alex Cora that helped set up Russo's decisive hit in the seventh inning. They're 10 games above 500 and remianed four games behind the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East.
The Mets are in even worse shape in the NL East, where they dropped to seven games out of first place after their 10th loss in 13 games. Another season of high expectations for the Mets has been reduced to the all-too-familiar story lines of injuries wrecking the roster and a manager forced to constantly answer questions about his future. This time, the pressure is ramping up on Omar Minaya, the GM, too.
There has already been turmoil off the field with the lingering injury to Carlos Beltran, and it became exacerbated on Friday when Maine stood in front of his locker and told a group of reporters that he felt fine despite getting pulled from his last start. Maine said he had not been told he was headed to the disabled list, but a couple hours later ? just before the first pitch against the Yankees ? it was announced that he was put on the DL.
On top of that, reliever Elmer Dessens was already on his way from Triple-A Buffalo and would arrive in plenty of time to pitch against the Yankees. "We're better than we've been, absolutely," the Mets' Jason Bay said. "At some point, I think you have to look at yourself, and I think we all have." Friday night, timing and injuries meant the always anticipated Subway Series opener didn't feature stars like CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett or Johan Santana on the mound.
The Mets trotted out 35-year-old Hisanori Takahashi, their best reliever, who hadn't started a game since he was pitching for the Yomiuri Giants. And the Yankees gave Vazquez his second start in 21 days ? after skipping his turn twice. Both looked a bit like those All-Star pitchers, escaping trouble just about every inning. The only hits that seemed to fall were an array of bloopers that looked like deflating balloons off the bat.
The Mets only managed two walks through the first four innings against Vazquez, who left the game with a bruised finger. One of those runners was stranded after a pair of strikeouts and the other was cut down trying to steal. When the Mets finally got a hit, Angel Pagan's bloop in the fifth, Rod Barajas promptly grounded into an inning-ending double play. "We know we have the offense," Pagan said, "we just have to find a way."
The Yankees weren't a whole lot better, putting runners on second and third with less than two out in the third and fourth innings and getting nothing out of it. Alex Rodriguez gave them another chance with a bloop double in the sixth, but Takahashi made Robinson Cano look foolish on a pitch in the dirt, and the strikeout ended yet another threat. Even when the Yankees finally scored, they needed some help to do it.
Nick Swisher had singled to lead off the seventh and Francisco Cervelli followed with a groundball to second base that Cora threw into center field while trying to start a double play. Russo promptly delivered a two-run double, dooming the Mets to another loss. "I just threw it away," Cora said. "I'm thinking two instead of one, and next time I need to get the one. I'm not going to make excuses. I just need to execute."
The Yankees finally did. The Mets are still trying. * AP