Takahashi's gutsy start can't save Mets

Takahashi's gutsy start can't save Mets

NEW YORK -- The imbalance of the boroughs was on full display on Friday night in Queens. Though Hisanori Takahashi did his best to veil the obvious, he could not completely mask the fact that the Mets are the Mets and the Yankees are the Yankees.

Both teams played their roles on Friday -- the Yankees that of World Series champions, the Mets that of something less stellar. It was Takahashi who provided the only bright points in a 2-1 loss at Citi Field. But in the opening game of a series that manager Jerry Manuel called a barometer for his team, the Yankees quietly and efficiently showed the Mets to their place.

"They're games that we want to win, no question," Mets third baseman David Wright said.

But for the eighth time in 10 games, the Mets did not win, this time thwarted by Alex Cora's throwing error and Elmer Dessens' debut in the seventh inning. And for the umpteenth time this season, the Mets did not win despite a stellar starting pitching performance.

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Making the first stateside start of his career at the age of 35, Takahashi provided more than the Mets could have imagined -- and more than the Yankees could handle. Featuring two-seam fastballs and sinkers that broke in toward the Yankees' left-handed batters, Takahashi kept a potent offense visibly uncomfortable for six innings, leaving after a limit of 101 pitches.

"What better way to get your feet wet in your first big league start than against the Yankees in the Subway Series?" left fielder Jason Bay said, describing Takahashi as "a veteran guy who knows how to pitch."

Takahashi compared the situation to facing the Hanshin Tigers in Japan's Central League during one of his nine seasons with the Yomiuri Giants. Bitter rivals, those two teams often played in front of more than 40,000 people at the Tokyo Dome.

A record-setting crowd of 41,382 was nothing unmanageable for Takahashi.

More significant than the crowd was the Yankees' lineup, full of All-Stars that Takahashi recalled watching on American baseball broadcasts in Japan.

"I knew these guys from the TV," Takahashi said through his interpreter. "But it's kind of scary to watch them face-to-face. So I didn't watch their faces."

Instead, Takahashi focused on the mitt of catcher Rod Barajas. More often than not, he hit it.

Ball-to-glove was only an issue for Cora, who, after Takahashi exited, threw Francisco Cervelli's would-be -- or at least could-be -- double-play ball into left field in the seventh. With two aboard and no outs after Cora's throwing error, rookie Kevin Russo then smacked a Dessens slider into right field to drive in the first two runs of his career, and the only two runs the Yankees would need.

Dessens, who joined the team only midway through the game, was pitching only because Jenrry Mejia and Raul Valdes were unavailable. But the error and the blame went to Cora.

"I was thinking two instead of one and just threw it away," Cora said. "I'm not going to second-guess myself. Most of the time when I make a decision on the field, it's going to be the right one. I just threw it away."

Russo's runs would not have been a problem had the Mets been able to muster anything off Yankees starter Javier Vazquez. But they could not, finding more success off Mariano Rivera in the ninth. With two outs, Bay and Ike Davis doubled in succession, giving the Mets their only run of the day.

It was a consolation prize and little else.

Though easily one of the most well-rounded teams in baseball, the Yankees are not without their flaws. On Friday, they started a rookie (Russo) in left field and a pitcher (Vazquez) who entered the game with an 8.01 ERA.

It didn't matter. Just as they did five times last season -- including all three times at Citi Field -- the Mets lost to their big brothers from the Bronx. They now have scored merely four runs off the Yankees in 47 innings dating back to last June 13.

Those looking for consolation would do better to focus on Takahashi than Bay, Davis or anyone else in royal blue and orange. In his first big league start, Takahashi gave the Mets their first dose of real optimism in a long while, proving that he can be a viable member of this rotation. With Oliver Perez banished to the bullpen and John Maine and Jon Niese both on the disabled list, that much was important.

Certainly every start will not go this well for Takahashi -- as Yankees right fielder Nick Swisher said, "we'll remember that next time." But it was something. For the Yankees, it was something quite good on an otherwise lamentable night.

"Every time he comes in, he makes things happen," center field Angel Pagan said. "It doesn't matter what kind of role he has on the team -- he deals. He's pretty good."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.