It wasn't officially over until Bobby Parnell made Travis Hafner the 14th strikeout victim of Mets pitching on the evening, wrapping up the first-ever season series sweep by the interlopers from Queens over their big, bad brethren from the Bronx, but Thursday night's series finale at Yankee Stadium certainly seemed to have been decided well before that.
The Mets not only beat the Yankees for the fourth straight time, but did so in dominant fashion, getting 7 1/3 overpowering innings from Dillon Gee, retiring the final 20 Yankees batters of the game and never trailing for the second straight night in a 3-1 win.
The concern for the Yankees by game's end is that their somewhat miraculous start to the season may be over. Thanks in large part to the contributions of such castoffs as Hafner, Lyle Overbay and Vernon Wells (who were 0-for-11 with five Ks on Thursday), the Yankees were 30-18 and in first place in the AL East heading into last Sunday’s series finale in Tampa Bay. Since then, New York has dropped five straight games to fall into second place and the offense has looked every bit as feeble as the organization had feared when one All-Star after another landed on the disabled list before the season and shortly after it began. The Yankees have cobbled together just 10 runs in those five games, only seven against a Mets staff that entered the series with the worst ERA in the National League.
They were surely no match for Gee on this night. The 27-year-old righty has pitched so poorly this year that when Mets manager Terry Collins was asked after the game when the last time was that Gee had pitched so well, he had to reference a spring training game. In fact, Gee, who entered the night with a 2-6 record and 6.34 ERA, the second-worst mark in the NL, may have been pitching for his job. Top prospect Zack Wheeler figures to be called up soon, and his arrival will bump someone from the rotation. The other candidate is Jeremy Hefner, but he made a strong claim to preserve his spot by pitching the Mets to a 9-4 win on Tuesday, allowing three runs on nine hits over six innings.
Hefner's outing was solid. Gee’s was spectacular. He gave up hits to the first two batters he faced in the first inning but escaped with the help of a double-play, and he surrendered Robinson Cano’s 14th home run in the third but that was the last man to reach base against him all night. He struck out nine of the last 15 hitters he faced, including the final four, to establish a new career high of 12 before being pulled after just 88 pitches. He finished the night with a GameScore of 78 (a Bill James stat that encapsulates a pitcher’s entire performance), the best of his career.
Gee may never have another night like this one, and despite the sweep, there remains a strong chance that the Mets – at least those not named Matt Harvey -- won’t either this season. You know things have been rough when your manager says the winning streak will help because, “it establishes a mood in the clubhouse that we’re not that bad.” The Mets are still seven games under .500 and nine games behind the first-place Braves in the NL East and while the five-game winning streak is nice, they’ve already had three losing streaks at least that long.
These Yankees are also in unfamiliar territory, having previously not lost more than two straight games all year. Help is on the way, though. Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis will likely be activated before Friday night’s game against the now first-place Red Sox, and Andy Pettitte will return on Monday. Those players, and the still-sidelined Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, can do nothing about what just took place these past four days, or about the fact that the Mets and their fans have earned permanent bragging rights for the next 12 months. The good news for the Yankees and their humbled supporters is that bigger prizes are still yet to be decided.