One-two pitching punch gives Mets edge

One-two punch gives Mets edge

NEW YORK -- At the moment, the Mets are in first place in a two-team New York City league.

Admittedly, it's an early moment, a moment when mid-May is merely turning to late May. But the Mets have taken round one of the Subway Series from the Yankees, by virtue of a 4-3 victory Sunday night.

What gives the Mets this early and relatively rare edge over the Yanks? Sunday night it was an offensive explosion in the fourth inning, a three-run home run by Carlos Delgado followed by David Wright's solo shot.

But over time, the Mets have had the top two pitchers in their rotation, Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine, working likes true aces. The Yankees are merely 1-for-2 in this category. Mike Mussina has been fine, but Randy Johnson has been an unsolved mystery, a once-dominant pitcher searching for his best form and not finding it.

The Mets have other questions that have not been answered in their rotation, and their success over the long season will depend in part on resolving those issues. But at the top of the rotation, they have been nothing less than superb in two spots. The core of their possible success is in place.

Saturday, Martinez was brilliant in seven shutout innings against the Yankees, but did not figure in the decision after Billy Wagner's ninth-inning implosion and the Yankees' persistence changed the course of the contest.

Martinez is 5-0 with a 2.82 ERA. If he is now relying on craft much more than power it is not as though his level has dropped. He is still one of the best pitchers of this generation, and, by the record, a rock-solid winner.

Sunday night, it was Glavine's turn. He was in a way better than his line would indicate, because the two runs he gave up, in the fourth, were the result of an infield popup that was allowed to drop for a double, and a two-run single that eluded third baseman David Wright.

Glavine was not at his precise best, needing 107 pitches to work six innings, but he was tough to solve when the situation became tense. The Yankees left runners in scoring position against him in five separate innings.

"It was one of those Houdini nights," Glavine said with a smile. "But as somebody once said, good things don't come easy.

"But in a lot of ways it's a gratifying night, particularly against a team like that. As banged up as they are, they still throw a pretty good lineup at you. To be able to beat a team like that without your best stuff is a gratifying win."

Glavine remains a master of the change of speeds, turning the changeup over against the right-handed hitters in the most difficult spots and making anything more than a ground ball seem like a truly remote possibility.

"What about Tommy Glavine?" manager Willie Randolph said without being asked. "Reminds me of the (1996) World Series against the Braves back in the day. He's still doing the same thing-hitting his spots.

"He's been tremendous. He knows how to work out of jams. He never gives into you, makes pitches when he has to."

And this on a night when Glavine said that the only pitch he felt totally in command of was the changeup. "The only thing I felt good about was the changeup," he said. "It was at best 50-50 with the fastball.

"It was a battle for me tonight. It was mentally as tough a game as I've pitched all year long."

Glavine is now 7-2 with a 2.48 ERA. If he seems reborn after he reached his 40th birthday, with this style of pitching, with his command of the pitching art, there is no reason, given a long track record of durability, that he can't continue this success.

"He's cunning," Yankee manager Joe Torre said in admiration. "He can thread a ball into the eye of a needle. He's a finesse guy. He's never been a power pitcher. Getting older is not a deterrent to him."

Between Glavine and Martinez the Mets are in a truly enviable position at the top of the rotation. It is true that the back of this same rotation contains serious questions. But if the top of the rotation people are operating at peak efficiency, that gives a club a solid base for moving forward.

The Mets could have swept this round of the Subway Series, but two out of three will serve as an acceptable alternative. This weekend was what you could term both a critical and a commercial success. Three one-run games, loads of drama, and a franchise record for attendance at a three-game series. A total of 168,679 people came to Shea Stadium for the three games. The crowd of 56,205 for the third game was the largest Sunday night crowd in Mets history.

"We as players try to downplay it, because to a degree, you have to," Glavine said of the Subway Series buzz. "There's so much hype that goes into this thing and it really is so early in the year.

"But there's nothing like it. I was thinking, going out there for my second at-bat, standing in the on-deck circle, looking around, seeing how loud it was, I mean, for May? That's pretty spectacular. You don't get that this time of the season. You get that in the playoffs sometimes. And I guess that's what it's about. The fans have a great time with it."

The Mets fans had a particularly great time with it on two out of three tries. Their team had the early edge on the Yankees and the edge was not a fluke.

Mike Bauman is the national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.