So there was no better stage for Vazquez to begin reclaiming his role in the starting rotation than under the bright Subway Series spotlight. Vazquez made that happen with six innings of one-hit ball on Friday, earning a well-deserved victory as the Yankees defeated the Mets, 2-1, at Citi Field.
The veteran righty got all the support he needed from Kevin Russo's first two big league RBIs, which came on a seventh-inning double, immediately before Vazquez would have to leave the game with a bruised right index finger incurred on a bunt attempt.
"I'm making better pitches," Vazquez said. "That's just the bottom line. When you're out there and you're pitching and you're competing, I think I'm making more quality pitches out there. It's helping."
- 134 wins
- 118 wins
The Yankees have now defeated the Mets in five consecutive games, dating back to June 14, 2009, and they are undefeated in four contests in Queens since Citi Field opened its gates.
With the Yankees showing relief after X-rays revealed no fracture in Vazquez's injured finger, they were free to be encouraged by his progress. Vazquez was the weak link of the rotation heading into May, owning an unsightly 9.78 ERA on May 1.
A strong performance on May 12 at Detroit -- as well as a winning, one-batter relief appearance against the Red Sox on Monday -- seem to have helped turn Vazquez's confidence around 180 degrees.
He walked two and struck out six in Friday's 70-pitch outing, holding the Mets hitless into the fifth inning, when Angel Pagan blooped a one-out single into shallow center field.
"He was great," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Vazquez. "He picked up right where he left off. He pitched well for us in Detroit, got a big out for us [against Boston] and he was great for us tonight. It wasn't a situation where I wanted to take him out of the game. He was rolling."
"I thought he was pretty good," offered Mets manager Jerry Manuel. "We faced him before with Atlanta and had some success late. He kept us off balance and executed pitches when he had to. I thought he pitched very well."
Stifled through six innings by the Major League starting debut of Japanese left-hander Hisanori Takahashi, the Yankees cracked through in the seventh with the help of Russo, a 25-year-old rookie who has been developing into a utility man at Triple-A.
Summoned to New York to help out the injury-ravaged roster on Thursday, Russo spotted his name in the lineup on Friday and spoke optimistically about hoping to contribute while playing left field.
Russo notched his first big league hit in the third inning, a single off Takahashi, and delivered the big blow off reliever Elmer Dessens in the seventh, when he sent Nick Swisher and Francisco Cervelli racing home with a double that found grass in right field.
"The first hit was great -- your first Major League hit," Russo said. "The second hit at the end turned out to be a big hit, so they were both great."
Russo was born in West Babylon, N.Y., and even though he grew up in Boulder, Colo., he said that he has spent a lot of time on Long Island. Russo's brother, Ryan, and 8-year-old niece, Deandra, flew to New York for Friday's game, and he said that he wasn't as nervous as in his first callup.
"It wasn't as bad as when I was in Boston the first time a few weeks ago," Russo said. "You know, I think that was good. When I first came up, I was a little nervous. This time, I knew what to expect a little bit, so I felt a little bit more comfortable."
Swisher said that Russo will remember his first hit and RBI forever, and the setting they came in were a total bonus.
"I was really, really happy for him," Swisher said. "He stays inside the ball, does the right thing -- attacks the ball the right way. For him to get his shot and come up here with a monster hit for us when we really, really needed it, I couldn't be more happy for him."
While he wasn't as dominant as Vazquez, Takahashi showed an ability to evade damage, sending the Yankees away empty-handed from two big opportunities as he scattered five hits with a walk and five strikeouts.
Cervelli opened the third with a walk and went to third on Russo's first hit, but Takahashi evaded trouble after a sacrifice by getting Derek Jeter to strike out looking and inducing Brett Gardner to ground out.
Knocking on the door again in the fourth, Alex Rodriguez singled and Robinson Cano doubled, putting runners at second and third with one out. But Takahashi again got out of trouble, striking out Swisher swinging and getting Cervelli to sky to center.
"You've got to tip your cap to their pitcher," Girardi said. "He knew how to expand the zone when he had to. He didn't have a lot of strikeouts, but there were some important ones on Jeter and on Swisher -- guys that have been really good with runners in scoring position over the last couple of years."
Seeking his first save since April 30, Mariano Rivera entered for the ninth and recorded the first two outs before Jason Bay doubled off the left-field wall. Ike Davis then doubled on the first pitch he saw, cutting the deficit to one run.
But Rivera got David Wright to ground out, ending a game that will be remembered as much for Vazquez's sharp outing as for Russo's introduction to the New York-New York spotlight.
"A big night," Girardi said. "We've talked about how, with injuries, guys have a chance to step up and show what they can do. And he had a great night for us."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.