10:24 am Jun. 25, 2012
This weekend's Subway Series came down to a battle of bullpens. So it is in no way surprising that the Yankees, who have one of baseball's better relief groups, won two of three from the Mets, and nearly swept.
On Saturday night, the Mets led the Yankees, 3-0, entering the seventh inning. The starter, Chris Young, is precisely the sort of pitcher who should be lifted at the first sign of trouble, just over a year after shoulder surgery. After a walk to Mark Teixeira, and a double to Nick Swisher (that was really a misplay by right fielder Lucas Duda), Raul Ibanez came to the plate as the tying run. That Young remained in the game, and served up a tying home run to Ibanez, showed once again the dilemma facing manager Terry Collins: He's damned if he goes to his bullpen, and damned if he pretends he doesn't have one.
Just to prove this point, Collins then brought in Jon Rauch, who allowed a home run to the first batter he faced, Eric Chavez. The Yankees led, 4-3, and their bullpen didn't allow the Mets to counter.
Sunday night, the Mets fell behind, 5-2, with a rare lapse in performance from R.A. Dickey. During a six-start period when Dickey had gone from merely very good to otherworldly, the Mets' pen had been called on for a total of 5 1/3 innings in six starts. So not only had Dickey shut down opponents, but he'd done so without relying too much on the bullpen for help.
Not Sunday night. Dickey had pitched to a 0.18 E.R.A. over his last six starts, but he finally looked human.
But the Mets rallied against CC Sabathia, and it was up to the bullpen to hold the Yankees.
After a scoreless seventh inning from Miguel Batista, Collins elected to go with Batista for a second inning. Batista served up the game-winning home run to Robinson Cano, and once again, the Yankee bullpen shut down the Mets.
After the game, Collins second-guessed himself, saying that against Cano, he should have employed Tim Byrdak. But Byrdak, a lefty specialist who really shouldn't face righties, would have merely been a one-batter solution to a much larger problem.
This wasn't a failure of manager imagination, really. The bullpen failures have been about the personnel.
The Mets are still tinkering, promoting Justin Hampson from Triple-A to ease the pressure on Byrdak.
At the same time, though, they just lost closer Frank Francisco, who hit the disabled list with an oblique muscle injury suffered Friday night.
Back in 2008, the Mets had a 3.5 game lead with 17 games to play. But their bullpen, with a second-half E.R.A. greater than five, pitched them right out of the playoffs.
Against all odds, the 2012 Mets have looked like playoff contenders. But it's getting ever harder to maintain that pose with a bullpen that might be the worst in recent Mets history.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
Powered by Brandon Barklage, who began the season as a reserve who was not expected to play much, the Red Bulls surged into a first-place tie with a 3-2 win Sunday night at Red Bull Arena.
Thanks to a victory in arbitration by the players' association, the Knicks can sign Jeremy Lin, Steve Novak and another player for more than the league minimum for veterans. However, the N.B.A. is planning an appeal.
England fell to Italy on penalty kicks in the quarterfinals.