NEW YORK — After watching the slow-motion television replays several times from the comfort of the visiting clubhouse, Alex Rodriguez was sticking to the story that his tag just barely brushed Jose Reyes’ uniform sleeve.
Reyes screamed up and down that Rodriguez’s glove never made contact, but in the end, the only opinion that mattered held firm. A-Rod’s too-close-to-be-sure play shifted the momentum on Friday, as the Yankees defeated the Mets, 5-1, at Citi Field.
“You never get surprised with Reyes,” Rodriguez said. “He’s always a very explosive player, and he’s always looking to do that. You always expect the unexpected.”
Ivan Nova limited the Mets to a run over five innings in his Queens debut, Mark Teixeira’s first-inning two-run double was the big blow against Mets lefty Jon Niese, and rookie Eduardo Nunez savored his first four-hit game.
But Rodriguez thought the biggest play of the night came in the seventh, hours after he’d spoken in glowing terms about Reyes, opining that the Mets are fielding “the world’s greatest player right now” and saying he’d gladly fork over money to watch the shortstop as a spectator.
Instead, Rodriguez’s vantage point was third base, as Reyes tagged up on a Justin Turner fly ball to center field. Curtis Granderson delivered a poor throw that skipped away from Nunez, and sensing opportunity, Reyes bolted for third base.
Nunez fired a strong throw to Rodriguez, who made a blind swipe to his left and convinced umpire Jerry Layne that there had been a tag near Reyes’ belt on the left side.
“That’s the way that I play,” Reyes said. “I try to be aggressive on the basepaths, and nothing’s going to change that. That’s the way that I’ve played all my career. I’m going to continue to be like that, to put pressure on the other team.”
The Yankees took two out of three from the Mets in the first edition of the Subway Series at Yankee Stadium in May, and now they have opened July with a victory — their 16th in 20 games overall.
They received all the support they’d need against Niese through the first three batters of the game, as Nick Swisher and Granderson singled before Teixeira rattled a two-run double into the right-field corner.
Robinson Cano added a run-scoring double later in the first before Niese settled in, likely deserving better in holding the Yankees’ potent offense to three runs in six innings overall.
“The Mets have been playing really well, we’ve been playing really well,” Teixeira said. “So it was the immovable object versus the unstoppable force tonight. Something had to give. And we just got off to that early lead, which is big, I think. And Nova really settled in and pitched great.”
The Yankees promised that nothing Nova did Friday would affect his spot in the rotation, even with Bartolo Colon coming off the disabled list Saturday and Phil Hughes on the mend. Nova’s outing wasn’t sensational, but he did enough to log his eighth victory of the season.
“Once we got the lead, I was thinking first going five innings so you can get the win, then stay longer in the game,” Nova said.
Five innings and 89 pitches was enough, but Nova impressed with his poise in the fifth inning, as two singles and a walk had interrupted the inning, which had Angel Pagan staring at a 1-2 count.
“I threw two fastballs in a row, and I think he got a really good cut on it, so I called Russell Martin,” Nova said. “He said, ‘What are we going to do?’ I said, ‘I want to go with my curveball.’ So we struck him out.”
Three hooks later, Nova was out of the inning and in line for the win he craved. He scattered seven hits, walking two and striking out three.
“I think he just had a lot of experiences last year,” Girardi said. “This year, he has found ways to get outs and to make his pitches. Improving his repertoire with a slider and changeup has also helped, as well. He’s got different pitches to go to. I think it’s just part of the process of learning how to pitch in those tough situations.”
Girardi said he tried to go for the kill by pinch-hitting Jorge Posada for Nova in the sixth, sensing an opportunity to bust the game open.
Posada struck out looking, but Nunez came through with an RBI single in the eighth inning, capping his first career four-hit game — just in the nick of time, with Derek Jeter set to begin a rehab stint Saturday for Double-A Trenton.
“I know he’s coming back,” Nunez said. “These two weeks have been an opportunity for me to show my manager, my staff, everybody, I can play one day in my career.”
Rodriguez tacked on the fifth Yankees run with a loud RBI double to left-center off D.J. Carrasco in the ninth that would have been several rows deep in the Bronx, but banged off Citi Field’s high left-field wall instead.
Did Rodriguez think he’d gotten enough of that one to clear the fences? In hindsight, his answer was eerily similar to what he sensed on the Reyes tag play.
“Yeah, probably,” Rodriguez said. “I wasn’t sure, but I thought it was.”