By Jason Keidel
» More Columns
It’s not breaking news to say the Subway Series lacks a little pizazz, or some of the sizzle we’ve seen over the last 20 years.
Some of that has to do with the Mets’ spot in the standings, and the fact that they’ve unloaded much of their top-tier talent over the last month.
So perhaps Tuesday night’s game was the one to watch out of the four-game set, at least on the mound where newly acquired starter Sonny Gray faced Mets ace Jacob deGrom. Not only was it a sexy pitching matchup, but it was also Gray’s first start in the Bronx since the Yankees traded for him.
And the matchup largely lived up to its billing. Gray tossed six shutout innings before yielding a two-run homer. He outpitched a very good pitcher. Job well done.
The wet field was oddly sloppy, with players twisting and slipping and stumbling all over, balls squirting out of gloves, and shattered bats spinning through the infield. But Gray and deGrom largely pitched to the back of their baseball cards. The Mets’ ace gave up a two-run shot to Jacoby Ellsbury (which was shocking) and a solo blast by Gary Sanchez (which was not). Aaron Judge struck out in his first at-bat, tying an MLB record for consecutive games (32) with at least one strikeout.
Craig Carton echoed the local sentiment on Monday when he said that the Mets had to win Tuesday night’s game or they would be swept in the Subway Series. We don’t yet know how prophetic Mr. Carton will be, but it’s not crazy to sense the Mets are about to wave the white flag on the series, since they already have on the 2017 season.
Had you told the Mets (53-64) in April that they wouldn’t have a single player batting at least .285, that this August game would be essentially meaningless, and the bulk of their offense would come from someone slugging their first career home run (Dominic Smith) they would have demanded a urine sample.
But Gray was the arm and man that mattered. Unloading a quiver of fastballs and off-speed pitches, he kept the depleted Mets off balance. Even better, the 27-year-old right-hander wasn’t moved by the magnitude of his first start in the Bronx with his new team, nor by the heat of this crosstown rivalry. Sure, Mets-Yankees doesn’t have the same heft it did in 2000, but it matters. And so if we’re grading Gray’s performance, he gets an A-minus.
Say what you will about the Yankees, but no matter the state of your fandom, you have to respect their efforts on and off the diamond this year. Rather than becoming bears at the July 31 trade deadline, the Bombers doubled-down on their pennant aspirations. And while they surrendered three prospects to the Oakland A’s for Gray, they kept the core of their young, high-end talent, from Chance Adams to Clint Frazier to Gleyber Torres.
They also bagged Jaime Garcia from the Twins, injecting their emaciated rotation with two solid starters without gutting their most fertile farm system.
The main issue and primary goal for the Yankees (63-55) is to win the AL East. They are currently 4 1/2 games behind the Boston Red Sox (68-51). After a promising start to their weekend series, the Bombers lost the last two games, which but a big dent in their pennant plans.
The Yanks have toyed with the wild card before and it hasn’t spawned much playoff fruit, as they got blanked by Dallas Keuchel and the Houston Astros the last time they tried it. The Pittsburgh Pirates were winning 97-98 games yet still getting booted from the playoffs because they only had one game to prove their playoff mettle.
You sweat out 162 games and then are forced to face Madison Bumgarner over nine innings, which is a frightful proposition. Just ask the Mets. Though is had become trendy for wild card teams to reach or win the World Series, it’s no longer desirable.
Which is why the Yankees shoved their pinstriped chips toward the middle of the October table. No objective fan really thinks the acquisition of Garcia and Gray makes them World Series favorites, or even the chalk to win the AL pennant.
But they get an A for effort. Now we’ll see how the Yankees grade at the end of this baseball semester, and season.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel