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Tejada smacks a single to center to score Bay

NEW YORK -- The largest crowd in the history of Citi Field assembled Friday evening, making about as much noise as 42,020 people should. And then the game started. And then the Yankees took a quick three-run lead off Jon Niese, silencing the home supporters.

The Mets, they knew, are not built to overcome a three-run deficit against elite competition. Nor did that script change in what ultimately became a 5-1 loss to the Yankees.

"We had the table set more than a couple times," Mets third baseman Justin Turner said. "We just didn't get the big hit."

Given their offensive renaissance of the past week, the Mets had reason to believe they might rebound against the Yankees -- even if just this once. They even knocked starting pitcher Ivan Nova out of the game after five innings, dipping into the soft spots of manager Joe Girardi's bullpen.

But just as they were unable to do the day before against Tigers ace Justin Verlander, the Mets could not convert those chances into runs.

"We had some opportunities," shortstop Jose Reyes said. "We had some people on base. But [Nova] was making quality pitches with people on base."

Perhaps the best of those -- or at least the most significant -- came in the fifth inning, after the Mets loaded the bases with two outs. Angel Pagan fell behind in the count by swinging at two balls off the outside corner, then flailed at a curveball in the dirt for strike three. In the words of manager Terry Collins, he "got a little anxious."

As a result, despite allowing nine baserunners in five innings, Nova conceded just one run, on Ruben Tejada's single in the second.

Then Nova departed and the drama unfolded. It began, as all things of significance at Citi Field begin, with a Reyes hit. Advancing to second on a flyout from Turner, Reyes was called out trying to take third base after Yankees shortstop Eduardo Nunez bobbled the relay throw on Turner's fly ball. Home-plate umpire Jerry Layne called him out, though replays indicated the opposite may have been true.

Reyes jumped up, dreadlocks flying, mouth yammering. Third-base coach Chip Hale restrained his star shortstop, giving Collins enough time to leap out of the dugout and pursue an argument. His reward was an ejection. But more importantly, the play stole away a prime opportunity for the Mets to claw back into the game.

"In that situation there, we were down two runs," Reyes said. "If I get to third base with less than two outs, it's going to be a different ballgame."

Instead, it became a loss for the Mets, who went relatively quietly over the final two innings against a trio of Yankees relievers. So rather than win for the fifth time in six games against a first-place American League team, they dropped their second straight.

"The Mets have been playing really well, we've been playing really well," Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "It was the immovable object versus the unstoppable force tonight. Something had to give."

What gave was the Mets. And quickly. Despite featuring perhaps his best curveball of the season, Niese stubbornly stuck to his fastball in the first inning, playing right into the Yankees' hands. After Nick Swisher singled on a fastball to lead off the game, Curtis Granderson duplicated the feat on another heater. Then Teixeira doubled home both men on Niese's 12th pitch -- and 11th fastball -- of the game.

By the time Robinson Cano doubled home the Yankees' third run on a cut fastball, it was too late. Though Niese began throwing his curve more consistently in the middle innings, catching the Yankees looking on five of his seven strikeouts, his salvage act meant little.

"Obviously, I threw too many fastballs right away," Niese said. "Before I could change it up, the damage was done."

"You're down three to the Yankees," Collins said. "Even though lately we've hit some homers, we're not a big home run-hitting club. So we've got to peck away and peck away."

They never did. The Mets went down relatively quietly instead, and now they must win two in a row to take their third consecutive series against an elite AL opponent. That, of course, is no easy task. It will require more hits and more runs and equal resolve.

That's what the tens of thousands of Mets fans came to watch Friday at Citi Field. That's what the Mets expected to provide.

"We had opportunities later in the game to do some damage," Collins said. "We just didn't get a hit."

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