05/20/06 12:37 AM ET
Subway Series starts with pitching woes
Yankees, Mets see starters struggle at Shea in opener
Pitching issues may not be the order of the day on Saturday, when the marquee matchup of Pedro Martinez vs. Mike Mussina occurs. But Friday night, the two New Yorks, Yankees and Mets, were looking at some shortages in the one area in which nobody wants to be short -- starting pitching.
Since the shortcomings were evenly balanced, this turned out to be a white-knuckler, the Mets eventually winning, 7-6, on David Wright's two-out single in the ninth. But thrills and chills aside, there are aspects of the starting pitching that both teams have to fix well beyond the scope of the Subway Series.
In the case of the Mets, missing 40 percent of their expected rotation due to injuries, a problem might have been anticipated. They called up two veteran pitchers. But Jose Lima compiled an 8.79 ERA in three starts. It is no longer Lima Time in Queens. On Friday night, the Mets announced that he had been designated for assignment.
Their Friday night starter, Jeremi Gonzalez, was not in Plan A, either. He is a pitcher from whom the Mets could fairly expect, on the high end, competence.
They didn't get that Friday night. Gonzalez lasted only three-plus innings, surrendering six runs on nine hits. This could have been disastrous for the Mets, except for two developments.
Their bullpen was superb, Aaron Heilman pitching three spotless innings, Billy Wagner striking out the side in the top of the ninth. But their bullpen won't continue to be superb if it is subjected to this sort of workload on a regular basis.
The other development was the Yankees' problem -- Randy Johnson continued to be somebody other than Randy Johnson. The vast majority of his career has been an answer rather than a question. But at this moment, there are only questions. He has now had five straight inadequate starts, and there was very little in his performance here that would alleviate the growing concern about his work.
Given a four-run lead in the first, Johnson surrendered a three-run homer to Carlos Beltran. Given a 5-3 lead by the third, he ceded that with a two-run homer by Xavier Nady. A 6-5 lead, by this time to the surprise of no one, evaporated in the fifth. Johnson departed the game with a previously unthinkable 5.62 ERA.
The problem was not, manager Joe Torre said, age. Johnson is 42 and this is a natural place to look for most people.
"Physically, he's fine," Torre said. "He's struggling with his mechanics.
Torre also dismissed the other usual reasons given for players of stature who struggle after joining the Yankees.
"I don't think it's New York," Torre said. "I don't think it's the media. I think it's strictly baseball."
Johnson remained adamant that if he could iron out the mechanical issues that lead to his command problems, he would still be all right. He acknowledged that while he is no longer throwing 98 mph, his velocity in the mid-90s should be more than enough if he could make it work to his satisfaction.
"I got the pitches," he said Friday night. "The stuff is there. People can say what they want and they will say what they want. I'm not too old and the stuff is not that bad."
While Johnson's work remained miles from expectations, the Yankees received more negative pitching news when it was learned that Carl Pavano had a bone chip above his right elbow. He will require surgery and will miss much more time than anticipated. Given the fact that Pavano's physical problems in calendar-year 2006 have included back, buttocks, triceps and biceps, he was not exactly trending toward full health. But the bone chip obviously puts him on the shelf for the foreseeable future and makes the recollections of him as an 18-game winner in 2004 seem considerably more distant.
The Yankees, of course have other injury concerns. They are missing two-thirds of their starting outfield, and now a backup outfielder. As difficult as the outfield injury situation is, Torre said, it was not as difficult as last season's Yankees injury situation, because that was centered in the starting rotation.
That is where the game starts, and that is also where the success or failure starts. The Mets are missing two starting pitchers, and the Yankees are missing the real Randy Johnson, or at least the former Randy Johnson.
The buildup for this renewal of the Subway Series is along the lines of "finally, a fair fight." The Mets entered the series with a 19-29 Interleague record against the Yankees, but they left Shea Stadium on Friday night 1 1/2 games better than the Bombers in the 2006 standings.
This is a terrific series for the fans of New York, even if the participants take every opportunity to portray this as just another three games and three games against somebody who is not even in the same division at that. The Shea Stadium crowd Friday night numbered 56,289, the largest for a game against the Yanks, and the seventh largest in Mets history.
"Wins and losses are the most important things, not bragging rights," Torre said.
The bragging rights are meat and potatoes for the fan bases, but that is true enough. And when the hoopla of this weekend ends, both the Mets and the Yankees have some serious starting pitching issues to resolve if they want the number of victories to reach championship levels.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.