"You could make a case for that," Piazza said.
A three-and-a-half-hour evening that featured five errors and 13 walks between the two sides eventually came down to a pair of defensive miscues committed by the Mets in the sixth inning, as the Yankees took the opener of a three-game set in Queens.
Victor Zambrano loaded the bases in the sixth and, his start dangling by a thread, actually induced Robinson Cano to chop the ground ball to second base that could have been an inning-ending double play, preserving a 1-1 tie.
But the much-maligned Kaz Matsui backed up on the play and had the ball tick off his glove, allowing Hideki Matsui to score and prolonging the inning. A play later, Doug Mientkiewicz picked an awful time to commit his first error of the season, misplaying a similar ball off the bat of Ruben Sierra to plate Alex Rodriguez.
"It's a do or die play, and I died," Mientkiewicz said. "Even the ball Kaz had was a short-hop. It was pretty much the same ball. You try to take a swipe at it and hope it goes in there."
While Mientkiewicz has earned raves for his defensive glovework around the bag, Matsui's performance has been the exact opposite. He has become a favorite target for boo-birds at Shea Stadium and could only have a tenuous hold on his starting job at this point.
"It looks easy from upstairs," said Mets manager Willie Randolph. "He turned the glove and the ball took off on him a little bit. He probably should have been more aggressive."
"I think in that situation we lost momentum and gave it to the opposition," Matsui said. "I feel bad for my teammates. I think I let them down."
Randolph said the Mets looked rusty defensively after the off-day, but so did the Yankees. Derek Jeter committed two errors in the fourth inning and went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts, but the Bombers still prevailed over the Mets and Zambrano, who lasted 5-1/3 innings and allowed four hits.
"I thought [Zambrano] threw the ball pretty well," Randolph said. "If you ask the Yankees, it's pretty much the way he threw against them the last few years. Maybe they bring out the best in him."
If that was Zambrano's best, the Mets may have deeper problems. Zambrano walked six and was continually in trouble during the effort, lucky to escape the outing with just three runs (two earned) charged to his ledger.
Piazza opined that Zambrano has so much natural movement that "he's one of those guys that's always going to be in a jam." Like fellow rotation mate Kaz Ishii, Zambrano said that his walks – he has walked 31 batters in 43.1 innings this season – never bother him.
"I was 100 percent trying to be ahead in the count and throw strikes," Zambrano said. "A ball is a ball."
BELL SHINES: Lost in the shuffle of the Mets' deflating loss was a sterling performance from reliever Heath Bell, who came on to replace Zambrano in the sixth inning and struck out Derek Jeter and Tony Womack, pinning the bases loaded.
"Comes with the territory," Bell said. "Some relievers are guys who won't get their due until all is said and done. You'll look at the numbers at the end of the year and say, 'Damn, who's that guy?'"
Bell, who started the season with Triple-A Norfolk, is 0-1 with a 3.50 ERA. He has struck out 17 batters in 18.0 innings, walking five.
RUNNING TALLY: With Friday's win, the Yankees improved to 90-60-1 against the Mets, a tally that includes Mayor's Trophy games and the 2000 World Series. Limited strictly to regular season Interleague play, the Yankees are 27-16 against the Mets.
The second game of the Subway Series gets underway at 1:20 p.m. Saturday on a nationally televised FOX contest, and it's a keeper of a pitching matchup: Randy Johnson (4-2, 3.77) and Kris Benson (1-1, 4.91).
The Mets no longer have Super Joe McEwing to stick into the lineup (though Miguel Cairo is 8-for-19 lifetime against the Big Unit), so the rest of the Amazin's will try to create their own success against Johnson.
"He's been one of the best in the game," Carlos Beltran said. "[Saturday] we'll try to put ourselves in a position to win the ballgame. If you get a run or two against Randy, that's good."
Contact Bryan Hoch at firstname.lastname@example.org.