Tuesday night at Citi Field, the New York Yankees opened the 2023 edition of the Subway Series with a dramatic 7-6 victory (box score) over the crosstown rival New York Mets. The Yankees erased an early four-run deficit and hung on for a one-run win in a game that went back-and-forth several times.
The Subway Series is lacking a little juice this year because Aaron Judge (toe) and Pete Alonso (wrist) are on the injured list, and also because neither the Yankees nor the Mets is having the season they expected, but it was impossible to tell Tuesday. The crowd was electric with dueling "Let's go Mets!" and "Let's go Yankees!" chants throughout.
With Tuesday's win, the Yankees improved to 79-60 with a plus-56 run differential all-time against the Mets during interleague play. Here are five takeaways from Tuesday's Subway Series game, plus a quick look ahead at Wednesday's contest.
1. Stanton loves hitting at Citi Field
No visiting player has hit more home runs at Citi Field than Giancarlo Stanton and he added to his total Tuesday. Stanton sent Max Scherzer's 11th pitch over the left field wall for a first inning solo homer and a 1-0 lead. To the action footage:
That is Stanton's fourth career homer against Scherzer and his 24th homer in 58 career games at Citi Field, the majority of which he played as a member of the Miami Marlins. Bryce Harper is a distant second among visiting players with 14 career homers at Citi Field, which opened in 2009. Stanton sure loves hitting in Queens.
"He's a bit streaky and when he turns on, he can carry the whole team," Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner said about Stanton earlier in the day Tuesday (via The Athletic). Stanton is now 4 for 25 (.160) with two home runs since coming off the injured list June 2.
2. Scherzer's slider is still an issue
For whatever reason, Scherzer's Hall of Fame slider is giving him trouble this season. A lot of trouble. Here are the numbers on Scherzer's slider entering Tuesday's game:
MLB average for sliders
Those 2023 numbers went up Tuesday. Stanton hit his home run off a hanging slider, and in the fourth inning DJ LeMahieu (two-run homer) and Anthony Volpe (RBI double) did damage when Scherzer left sliders in the middle of the plate. Scherzer has surrendered five home runs on his slider this year. He allowed zero on the slider last year, and five all of 2021.
The Mets staked Scherzer to a 5-1 lead against a struggling Luis Severino and Scherzer gave it all back and then some. The Yankees put five runs on the board in the fourth inning to turn a 5-1 deficit into a 6-5 lead. The final blow was a Jake Bauers two-run bloop single. Volpe blew through third base coach Luis Rojas' stop sign to score the go-ahead run.
In part because of his slider issues, Scherzer struck out only two of the 19 batters he faced Tuesday, and the Yankees are not exactly shy about striking out. Scherzer's strikeout rate has steadily declined from 34.1% of batters faced in 2021 to 30.6% in 2022 to now 25.3% in 2023. For a soon-to-be 39-year-old pitcher, any sign of decline is worrisome, and Scherzer's strikeout rate and waning slider effectiveness qualify as red flags.
Scherzer is now sitting on a 4.45 ERA in 11 starts this season, and he's allowed at least five runs four times in those 11 starts. He allowed four runs only four times in his previous 52 starts dating back to April 2021, according to the YES Network. Both starters struggled Tuesday and have struggled for much of the season. To paraphrase a former New York manager, it's not what either team wants.
3. Boone stuck with Severino too long
Severino began the season on the injured list with a lat strain and, in his first two starts back, he struck out 10 and allowed two earned runs in 11 1/3 innings. He looked great! Severino's next two starts were a disaster though -- 11 runs and six home runs in nine innings -- and the disaster trend continued Tuesday, particularly in the early innings.
Brandon Nimmo answered Stanton with a leadoff homer in the bottom of the first. Brett Baty followed with an RBI single later in the inning, then Jeff McNeil singled home two runs in the second. Severino also committed two balks in that second inning, only the second and third balks of his career. The Mets added another run in the third inning to build their 5-1 lead.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone stuck with his struggling starter after the Yankees took a 6-5 lead, and Severino rewarded him with a shutdown 1-2-3 fourth inning. In the fifth inning, however, Severino allowed a one-out single to Baty, and after a groundout moved Baty to second, Boone came out for a chat with his struggling righty. It seemed like Severino's night was over.
Rather than pull the plug and go to the warmed up Ron Marinaccio, Boone stuck with Severino. He went to the mound to give him a little pep talk, and to show confidence in him. You know what happened next, right? Luis Guillorme poked the second pitch of his at-bat through the left side to tie the game 6-6. Sticking with Severino backfired.
Severino owns a 6.48 ERA in five starts this season, and the last three have been especially bad. His fastball velocity has been down a bit and his location has been just horrible. Severino is leaving too many hittable pitches out over the plate and making too many noncompetitive pitches far out of the zone for easy takes. Painting the corners seems impossible right now.
The Yankees are currently without Nestor Cortes (shoulder), Frankie Montas (shoulder), and Carlos Rodón (forearm, back), and they are all weeks away from returning. New York doesn't have the option of skipping Severino's next start to try to iron things out on the side. Getting him right is one of the team's top priorities. He is too important for their postseason hopes.
4. Battle of the bullpens
On paper, the Yankees have a significant advantage over the Mets when it comes to the bullpen. The Yankees' bullpen entered play Tuesday with a 2.76 ERA and a .209 opponent's batting average, both the best in baseball. The Mets' bullpen boasted a 4.34 ERA (22nd among the 30 teams) and .240 opponent's batting average (19th).
New York's bullpen -- the Mets, that is -- cracked in the sixth inning, thanks in part to a rare Nimmo misplay. He straight up dropped a Volpe fly ball that put runners on second and third with one out. It was generously scored a double for Volpe, but Nimmo will be the first to tell you he should have had it. Josh Donaldson followed with a pinch-hit sacrifice fly to give the Yankees a 7-6 lead.
At that point, the Yankees had the Mets where they wanted them: one-run lead with their bullpen lined up. Marinaccio, Jimmy Cordero, and Tommy Kahnle got the Yankees through the sixth and seventh, though trouble arrived in the eighth. Wandy Peralta loaded the bases with one out on a walk, a single, and a hit batter. That brought Francisco Lindor and Starling Marte to the plate.
Boone went to Clay Holmes, the closest thing the Yankees have to a closer, who proceeded to strike out Lindor and Marte to escape the game and preserve the 7-6 lead. Holmes ran the count full on both hitters, but made the big 3-2 pitch to get the swing and miss both times.
Because Holmes was forced to throw 16 pitches to escape that eighth inning, Boone went to Michael King in the ninth. King needed only nine pitches in a 1-2-3 inning to secure the win and his fourth save of the season. The Yankees' bullpen put five runners on base in 4 1/3 innings, so it was a bend but don't break night. Ultimately, it did not break, and closed out the win.
5. Smith got caught with sticky stuff
Before he took the mound in the seventh inning, Mets righty Drew Smith was checked by umpires for foreign substances, and apparently they found something. . Foreign substance ejections come with an automatic 10-game suspension and the Mets will have to play with a 25-man roster while Smith serves his ban.
Smith is the third pitcher -- and second Met -- to get caught with a foreign substance this season. Scherzer got busted on April 19 and Yankees righty Domingo Germán got caught on May 17. Scherzer and Germán both served their 10-game suspensions after declining to appeal.
The loss is a big one for the Mets. Smith is one of manager Buck Showalter's most trusted relievers, so an already shaky Mets bullpen will be shorthanded the next 10 games.
The Mets and Yankees will wrap up this quick two-game series Wednesday night, weather permitting. There is afternoon rain in the forecast, though it appears there will eventually be enough of a window to play an uninterrupted nine innings. In the event of a rainout, the Mets and Yankees both have an off-day Thursday.
Former Houston Astros teammates Justin Verlander (2-3, 4.85 ERA) and Gerrit Cole (7-1, 2.84 ERA) are Wednesday's scheduled starting pitchers. While with Houston, Verlander and Cole finished first and second in the 2019 AL Cy Young voting, respectively. The Mets and Yankees will play the Yankee Stadium portion of this year's Subway Series from July 25-26.