July 5, 2004
METS 6, YANKEES 5
Mets Sweep Aside Years of Frustration Against Yanks
By TYLER KEPNER
Richard Hidalgo's home run in the seventh was his third in the series.
There has not been much joy for the Mets since Bernie Williams dropped to a knee on the Shea Stadium grass, the final out of the 2000 World Series tucked safely in his glove. The Mets have hardly sniffed contention, struggling to stay relevant in George Steinbrenner's New York.
For one dizzying weekend, everything changed. It took eight seasons of interleague play, but the Mets finally swept a three-game series and won a season series from the Yankees. They blew out the Yankees on Friday and outlasted them for one-run victories the next two days, proving a point across the boroughs.
"We probably earned a lot of respect from those guys," the Mets' Cliff Floyd said. "Does it mean anything? Probably not. But it means a lot to us."
On a weekend in which they deliberately did not use their two best starters, the Mets won with a relentless offense. Yesterday, they lost a three-run lead but won, 6-5, when Ty Wigginton's second home run of the game broke a tie in the eighth inning.
"They probably wanted it more than we did," said Yankees reliever Tom Gordon, who allowed the game winner. "They played harder. We played good baseball. Don't get me wrong; we played hard. But they didn't quit. They absolutely did not quit, and they played winning baseball. That's a good ball club over there."
The Mets are two games over .500 for the first time this season. They are heading to Philadelphia knowing that they will be tied for first place in the National League East if Tom Glavine and Al Leiter win the next two games there.
"There's certainly some satisfaction and gratification in playing this series here and doing well, doing something we haven't done before," Mets infielder Todd Zeile said. "I think the good part about it is that we did it at a time when we need to continue to play quality baseball, because we've got a chance to make a move in this division right now."
Yankees pitchers had an 8.88 earned run average for the weekend, allowing three home runs in every game. Richard Hidalgo hit one in all three, and Wigginton followed his Saturday homer with the first multihomer game of his career.
He struck first in the second inning against Javier Vazquez, whose familiarity with the Mets might have worked against him. Vazquez, a control specialist, walked five in five innings, including the leadoff hitter three times. Zeile, who played with Vazquez in Montreal last season, said the Mets made sure to resist his high fastballs.
"We made him bring the ball down into the zone, where we could hit it," Zeile said. "We had guys on base, kept him in the stretch, and stuck with that game plan."
Jason Phillips walked to lead off the second, and Wigginton followed by stroking a slider over the right-field wall to give the Mets a 3-0 lead. Starter Jae Seo left with a 4-2 lead in the sixth, and after the Yankees tied it, Hidalgo homered to left off the left-hander Felix Heredia in the seventh.
Manager Joe Torre's use of Heredia against a dangerous right-hander was telling. Torre's starters have not gone six innings since Wednesday and the bullpen was exhausted; yesterday was Paul Quantrill's day to rest.
The weekend demonstrated why the Yankees want to trade for a pitcher to steady their inconsistent rotation.
"You can never have enough pitching," Torre said. "I talked about that in spring training. That's one area where we're thinner than we've been in years here. Not that we don't have the quality, but when something goes wrong, it becomes a struggle."
Gordon has been nearly infallible, but he blew a save on Saturday and was the losing pitcher yesterday. Facing Wigginton with the score tied, 5-5, in the eighth, Gordon hung his second pitch, a slider, in the strike zone. Wigginton walloped it over the left-field wall, and the Mets hung on.
"In one way, it hasn't really sunk in yet," Wigginton said. "Right now, we're just thinking about winning a ballgame. Maybe later, I'll think about how great a day it really was."
The Yankees will play the final seven games before the All-Star Game break at Yankee Stadium, where they may have to brace for an eruption from Steinbrenner, the principal owner.
Steinbrenner had nothing to say last night, according to his spokesman, Howard Rubenstein, but Torre was not discouraged by the sweep.
"You don't enjoy it when you lose," Torre said. "But I was proud, as I'm sure Artie was, with how hard the players played. That's all you can ask. The results aren't always going to be what you want them to be. We've been spoiled, because we've won a lot of those games where we've come back and come from behind. They bent a lot but they didn't break. You really have to give them credit."
Art Howe, the Mets' manager, was happy to take it. He saved Glavine and Leiter and swept the Yankees anyway, and his team matters again.
"It was a great weekend for us," Howe said. "It turned out the way we hoped it would turn out."
The Mets swept Jorge Posada and the Yankees in a three-game series and won the season series, both for the first time.
SPORTS OF THE TIMES
The Nine Days That Shook New York's Baseball World
By DAVE ANDERSON
Ty Wigginton's second home run of the day in the eighth inning won the game and completed a series sweep for the Mets over their crosstown rivals.
THESE were the nine days that shook the little world of New York baseball and even rattled windows as far away as Boston.
They shook the Mets into believing that they really are contenders in the National League East, and they shook the Yankees into again doubting their confidence in their postseason rotation.
They also shook the Red Sox into consternation over their wild-card chances.
And now the question is, will the Mets' unprecedented sweep of the weekend series with the Yankees at Shea Stadium shake Fred Wilpon into renting another starting pitcher or a better bullpen setup man in order to overtake the Philadelphia Phillies and keep the Florida Marlins at bay?
Wilpon has already approved one magical move: acquiring Richard Hidalgo, the right fielder with a homer in each of his last four games. But more reinforcements are needed.
The Mets not only swept a three-game interleague series with the Yankees for the first time, they also won four of the six games between the teams for the first time.
Before Alex Rodriguez bounced to third baseman Ty Wigginton - who made yesterday's 6-5 victory possible with two home runs, including one in the eighth inning - virtually all of the 55,437 fans at the game were on their feet, yelling, "Let's go, Mets!" and waving for closer Braden Looper to shut the door.
And waving for Wilpon, the Mets' principal owner, to open his real estate vault again.
Before the nine days began a week ago Saturday, when the Mets won, 9-3, behind Al Leiter at Yankee Stadium, Joe Torre, the Yankees' manager, used the word exhibition to minimize the importance of this interleague series that, to him, is mostly a nuisance. But to the fans of the Yankees and the Mets, it's more of a crusade.
"Yankee fans, enjoy the sweep!" a sarcastic Mets fan on Shea's club level bellowed after the final out. "Enjoy the sweep!"
As for the Yankees, Torre sat in the visiting manager's cramped office, answering questions calmly and patiently, as he always does, but none of the players were in sight. They had apparently disappeared into the privacy of the trainer's room. But as reporters waited to enter the clubhouse, Brian Cashman, the general manager, moved past them without a smile.
Cashman's cellphone almost surely rang last night, and if it did, he didn't have to guess who the caller was. As delighted as George Steinbrenner was with the midweek three-game sweep of the Red Sox at the Stadium, as the Yankees' principal owner, he was most likely livid after his $180 million payroll was swept by the Mets.
And after Friday night's 11-2 rout, they lost games that Steinbrenner pays the Yankees to win: 10-9 on Saturday when reliever Tanyon Sturtze made a late backhanded flip to catcher Jorge Posada as Kazuo Matsui slid home, and 6-5 yesterday on Wigginton's two homers.
"Our starters struggled the last few days," Torre said, "and that played into our bullpen."
If the Mets can shell Mike Mussina, José Contreras and Javier Vazquez, can those starters be trusted to get the Yankees, even if they run away with their division, through the American League playoffs and to the World Series? So look for Steinbrenner to put the hammer on Cashman to snatch a starter. The glamour choice is the left-hander Randy Johnson, toiling for the Arizona Diamondbacks deep in the National League West cellar.
The Mets would also be interested in Johnson, but he reportedly has no desire to leave Arizona. Then again, Curt Schilling, who rode shotgun when Johnson won three games in Arizona's 2001 World Series victory over the Yankees, might persuade him to join the Red Sox for the opportunity to deflate the Yankees again. But only if the Red Sox can stay in contention for the wild card.
As for the Mets, they open a four-game series tonight in Philadelphia; they trail the Phillies by two games and have Tom Glavine, their All-Star left-hander, going against Paul Abbott.
Art Howe, the Mets' manager, chose to save Glavine for the Phillies rather than use him yesterday against the Yankees, because Howe thought the Phillies game was more important. If Glavine beats the Phillies tonight, the Mets, now two games over .500 for the first time this season, at 41-39, will be only one game out of first. After the Philadelphia series, the Mets go to Florida for a three-game weekend series before the All-Star Game break.
"This week," left fielder Cliff Floyd said, "could go a long way toward what we're trying to accomplish."
While the Mets try to climb, the Yankees, with their six All-Stars (Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi, Mariano Rivera and Tom Gordon) are still sitting pretty, seven and a half games ahead of the Red Sox. But you know that Steinbrenner, receiving the worst possible present on his 74th birthday, won't take the Mets' sweep lying down. Or silently.
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company