By Ernie Palladino
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Interleague play has now become an everyday occurrence in baseball. As a result the Subway Series, the first installment of which concluded Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium, has lost all modicum of uniqueness.
And yet, there still exists something to anticipate. For those who will probably fill Citi Field for the first of the Mets’ two-game set there Wednesday, a look into both teams’ futures is on tap. There will be a little something for everybody as they cast their eyes on the mound.
It’s just a matter of whether the results surprise anyone.
For the Yanks, it’s no secret that Wednesday’s starter, Masahiro Tanaka will present a mighty challenge to Terry Collins’ offense, which hasn’t exactly elevated the hitting arts this year. Notwithstanding the Mets’ 9-7 outslugging of the Yanks on Monday and Tuesday’s 12-run laugher, Collins’ roster featured just two hitters over the .300 mark, neither of whom bore the name David Wright. And one, newcomer Eric Campbell, only has six at-bats.
Indeed, Tanaka has proved a puzzle to hitters so far. He’s 5-0, 2.57. Opponents are hitting .227 against him, only slightly lower than the Mets’ 27th-ranked .234 team average. One shouldn’t expect a lot of Tanaka’s pitches to go flying over those far-away walls at Citi Field, either, as the Mets’ 28 homers rank 24th in the majors.
But then, we all know about Tanaka. In fact, we have known about him and his magical splitter since the Yanks wooed him out of Japan in the offseason.
The guy we don’t know about may be the real treat of this game. Rafael Montero will make his major league debut. For a kid coming out of Triple-A Las Vegas rated just a smidge behind the franchise’s top prospect, Noah Syndergaard, taking his first bow in a Subway Series can’t get much bigger, regardless of how any critic — including this one — feels about the efficacy of interleague play.
In Montero, the Mets faithful will get a look at yet another player who may comprise a dream rotation for next season. Syndergaard is still waiting. In fact, GM Sandy Alderson said Syndergaard wasn’t even considered for this start, probably because contractual reasons have the Mets waiting until June to raise the curtain on him. Matt Harvey probably won’t be back until next season. But if Montero acquits himself well as a fifth starter, it will open the Mets to some delicious possibilities. Imagine 2015 — Harvey, Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, Zack Wheeler, Syndergaard, and Montero. And you can throw Bartolo Colon in there, too, if Sandy Alderson feels he can last out that second and final contract year.
Talk about pitching rich, assuming everything goes to plan.
Montero, 23, has shown no lack of promise in Vegas. He went 4-1, 3.67 in eight starts, with 41 strikeouts in 41 2/3 innings. So we know he can strike people out.
Can he win on this level? That’s what Alderson has to find out, like right now.
“We think he’s ready,” Alderson told the media Monday. “We understand it’s the debut and it’s on a big stage. We also understand it’s unlike the debuts of other young pitchers over the last couple of years. But we think there are some differences in this situation.”
Different, maybe. But the differences won’t slacken the pressure. Not only will Montero start at home, whereas Harvey and Wheeler were able to break in comfortably in enemy territory, but Montero is part of a pitching shakeup. He’s not just being slipped in there for a look-see. With Jenrry Mejia losing his starter’s job and placed in the struggling bullpen, Alderson and Collins are definitely looking for a spark.
They’re counting on the hard-throwing right-hander to provide that.
Unless both pitchers bomb out, Wednesday night will provide a nice, compact glimpse into the future of both pitching staffs.
Kind of makes the Subway Series worthwhile after all.
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