In this Subway Series, the Mets did all the flexing
By Tyler Kepner
The final hit on Wednesday night bounced into the glove of Aaron Hicks, and of course he didn’t want it. Hicks, the New York Yankees’ left fielder, gathered Starling Marte’s game-winning single, held it for a while and then flung it aside like a piece of gum. A ball boy retrieved it and tossed it into the crowd at Citi Field. Trash for the Yankees, treasure for the fans.
The New York Mets’ 3-2 victory gave them a two-game sweep of the Yankees in the first Subway Series since 2015 in which both teams were holding first place in their divisions. They will meet for two more games next month in the Bronx — and maybe again in the fall.
“Oh, that’d be great,” said the Mets’ Pete Alonso, who hit his 26th homer on Wednesday. “If we’re playing against each other in November, that’d be awesome.”
Alonso said he knew the Mets and the Yankees had met in the World Series a long time ago — a blow to those of us who remember it well, but accurate from his perspective. The Polar Bear was just a cub in October 2000, only five years old when the Yankees danced on the lawn at Shea Stadium after winning their third title in a row.
There was no celebration for the visitors in Flushing this time.
The Yankees have lost 10 of their last 15 games, including a road doubleheader last week to the Houston Astros, who thumped them in the season series, five games to two. Those results pierced the Yankees’ aura, perhaps, but not their confidence. They’d like to remind you that they’re still baseball’s best team, at 66-33 before Thursday’s game with Kansas City.
“We’re unfazed,” manager Aaron Boone said. “We know where we’re going.”
Boone was feisty after Wednesday’s loss, disputing the notion that the Yankees’ lineup has too many power hitters prone to striking out. It was “fake news,” he claimed — can’t we bury that term already? — but acknowledged that it sure was nice to have a new outfielder, Andrew Benintendi, who makes a lot of contact and leads the American League in singles.
“We’ve got savages in the lineup, really good hitters,” Boone said. “Benintendi’s a great hitter — gets on base at a really high clip, hits from the left side, gives you some balance. If we get him, that’s another really good big-league hitter to add to the mix that’s going to lengthen out your lineup.”
Boone spoke just before the trade became official: Benintendi to the Yankees, three Class A pitchers to the Royals. A Gold Glove left fielder last season, Benintendi was hitting .320 with a .387 on-base percentage and three home runs for Kansas City. Benintendi, 28, helped the Boston Red Sox win the 2018 championship, batting second in all of their World Series victories.
“Bat-to-ball skills, speed, always works a good at-bat — and if you’re not too careful, man, he can leave the yard on you,” said the Yankees’ Aaron Judge. “I’ve seen it many times at Yankee Stadium. Just a well-rounded player, that’s for sure.”
Benintendi, who has seven career homers in 30 games at Yankee Stadium, is basically the antithesis of Joey Gallo, the outfielder who has hit .160 with 191 strikeouts in 418 at-bats since his trade from Texas last July. Gallo’s 25 homers have not been enough to offset all the empty at-bats.
The Yankees have other pressing issues: reliever Michael King had season-ending elbow surgery this week, the starter Luis Severino has been shut down for almost two weeks with a right lat strain and the slugger Giancarlo Stanton is out with a left Achilles’ injury. This season, it turns out, is not as charmed as it seemed for the first three months.
“We know we’re really good, and we know we’re going to hit a snag in the season,” Boone said. “We’re equipped for it. We’re ready to deal with it. We actually embrace a little bit of adversity. We’ll power our way through it, no question in my mind.”
With an 11 1/2-game lead in the AL East through Wednesday, the Yankees have reason to be comfortable. The Mets lead Atlanta by only three games in the National League East — but they, too, are hoping to benefit from adversity in time.
Max Scherzer, who turned 38 on Wednesday, missed more than a month with a strained left oblique muscle; if he’s at his best in October, the forced rest will have been worth it. He has returned as an ace in full this month, with a 1.39 earned run average in five starts, passing Bob Gibson on the career strikeout list along the way.
Scherzer retired Judge four times on Wednesday, three times with third-strike sliders that Judge expected but could not handle.
“The first at-bat, I was all over the heater,” said Judge, who lined out to right. “I was kind of sitting on the slider the rest of the game, and sometimes when that happens, you expand the zone a little bit.”
The Mets’ other multi-time Cy Young Award winner, Jacob deGrom, also pitched on Wednesday, working four innings for Class AAA Syracuse. DeGrom, who has dealt with a stress reaction on his right scapula, has not pitched in the majors in more than a year. The time off, in theory, could make deGrom at his strongest when it matters most, though the Mets cannot be certain.
“When you pitch at the level he’s pitched at, I don’t know,” manager Buck Showalter said. “I can’t sit here and say that I know. But it will be fun to find out.”
Showalter said the Mets hoped to activate deGrom from the injured list early next week — right around the Aug. 2 trading deadline, as it happens. There is no better arm the Mets could find on the open market, and no better reason for optimism that a deep playoff run could be in their future.
And if they end up in a rematch of that long-ago duel with the Yankees? As Alonso said: awesome, indeed.