Two of the Yankees alumni still were playing in the ninth inning Friday night, when the final swings of the Mets' 2-1 Interleague loss happened. Derek Jeter was at shortstop, of course. And Mariano Rivera was on the mound and en route to another save.
Each of the four former Mets had participated in a one-run victory against the Yankees at Shea Stadium in 1999. Reed was the starting pitcher, Wendell relieved, Agbayani started in right field and Alfonzo, the second baseman, scored the decisive run in the ninth inning when Matt Franco delivered a pinch-hit single against -- who else? -- Rivera.
The better part of 11 years have passed since that July 10 game and 9-8 Mets victory, hardly an insignificant period for humans. For a relief pitcher, though, that period is an eternity or two. That Rivera was on the mound Friday night in position to lose again begged the question: Which was the more remarkable -- that he was still pitching or that he had a chance to lose?
"I know, I know," said Jeff Francoeur, who was a high school freshman when Franco beat Rivera. "And he's done it with one pitch. You don't take him for granted. I mean, I'm sure the Yankees don't. But sometimes you just overlook how incredible it is that he's still out there winning."
Rivera didn't Mo'em down as he has done almost routinely, even now at age 40. In his five-batter workday, the Mets doubled the hit total they had dragged into to the ninth. After two outs, one by Jose Reyes batting right-handed against Rivera's the toxic cutter, Jason Bay and Ike Davis doubled, so that the Mets weren't shut out one night after they had scored 10 runs.
Indeed, the run Davis drove in made Rivera's 15th appearance the third straight in which he had allowed runs -- a save not converted, a loss and his eighth save. He hadn't endured a comparable three-game indignity since August 2007. The save was his first since the last day of April. He hadn't gone so long without a save since May '07.
"Yeah, and now he'll probably run off 25 more," said Cora, a second-year player with the Dodgers back in 1999. "And if they get in the postseason, you know he'll do the job."
Consider what the Mets faced when Rivera replaced Joba Chamberlain to start the ninth. They had managed two singles, neither scorched, in eight innings -- one by Angel Pagan in the sixth inning against starter Javier Vazquez and the other by Cora, leading off the seventh against David Robertson, the first of four Yankees relievers.
The Mets were down two runs, with no reason to expect offense against any pitcher, and they were facing the pitcher several of them identified as the greatest reliever of all time.
"That what makes the game great," Cora said. "All that against us, and we still had a chance."
Bay's double reached the left-center-field wall. Using the Citi Field-to-normal conversion table, it would have been a home run anywhere except Forbes Field and the pre-1974 reconstruction of Yankee Stadium. When Bay reached second base, Jeter gave him that look -- the look that said, "Why did they build this park this way?"
"It could have been worse," Bay said. "It could have been caught."
Davis, batting cleanup again, came to the plate. He had met Jeter when he was 14. But his only exposure to Rivera had been television. He knew about the cutter, of course.
"I was contemplating taking the first one," Davis said, "just to see it. But you don't want to get behind on him. So I was looking for a ball starting in the middle [and breaking in], and I was able to keep my arms inside."
The first-pitch double went to right-center field and afforded David Wright an opportunity to reprise his ninth-inning, run-scoring single over the head of Johnny Damon in center field off Rivera at Shea Stadium in 2006. But Wright grounded out, and the Mets were left to contemplate Rivera and another defeat.
Bay's well-struck double hardly had been a stunner. He had hit one out against Rivera as a member of the Red Sox.
"But I don't want to make this a Bay-Mariano thing," he said. "We should be talking about Ike. His first at-bat -- first pitch -- and he hits a double."
It was pointed to Bay that Davis might have inside information on Rivera, because his father, Ron, was a closer and a Yankee. But he wasn't buying that.
"My father was a warehouse man and a smelter," Bay said. "What does that get me?"