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Unit, Rivera struggle as Yanks fall short

Unit, Rivera struggle as Yanks drop opener

NEW YORK -- Round 1 of the Subway Series resembled a heavyweight fight, as the Yankees and Mets started out fast and furious, then slowed things down, measuring each other while looking for the knockout punch.

The Mets delivered that final blow against Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning, as David Wright's walk-off RBI single plated Paul Lo Duca from second base, giving the Mets a 7-6 victory over the Yankees in front of a bi-partisan crowd of 56,289.

While Rivera was the official loser of the game, it was Randy Johnson who was the topic of conversation when all was said and done.

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Johnson continued to struggle with inconsistency, giving up six runs on eight hits in five innings, getting a no-decision. In his last five starts, Johnson is 2-2 with a 7.87 ERA, while his ERA for the season has shot up from 3.72 to 5.62 in that stretch.

"If I had never dominated in this game, I wouldn't have anything to balance off what I'm going through right now," Johnson said. "But considering I've done what I've done, it's pretty frustrating to go out there and give it up the last four, five or six starts in a row."

Johnson struck out five batters, marking the eighth straight start in which the Big Unit has had five strikeouts or fewer.

"He just didn't look particularly comfortable out there, but he battled his rear end off," said manager Joe Torre. "Unfortunately, we came away empty."

The Yankees' offense gave Johnson some breathing room right away, torching Jeremi Gonzalez for four runs in the first inning.

Given the four-run cushion before he stepped on the mound, Johnson couldn't do much to keep the momentum on the Yankees' side.

The Big Unit walked Jose Reyes, then allowed a single by Lo Duca. Carlos Beltran followed with a three-run blast to left, pulling the Mets back within a run before Johnson registered an out.

"One bad pitch to Carlos," said Jorge Posada, who left the game in the second with back spasms. "It got more of the middle of the plate and he hit it out. That pitch is the one that hurt him."

In 10 starts, Johnson has now allowed 13 runs in the first inning, including three home runs. Opponents are hitting .350 this season against Johnson in the opening frame.

"I'm not throwing 97-98 [mph], but I'm throwing 94-95 and my slider is 85-87, so I have the pitches," Johnson said. "The location, pitch sequence, those are the things you have to look at. The stuff is there. It's just not getting the job done right now."

"I feel frustrated for Randy, because I know he's trying to find this thing," Torre said. "We'll just have to wait for five days from now."

The Yankees added a run in the third, taking a 5-3 lead, but Xavier Nady struck Johnson for a two-run shot in the bottom of the inning, tying the game at 5.

Kelly Stinnett, who took over for Posada behind the plate, singled in a run in the fourth to put the Yankees back on top.

Once again, Johnson couldn't hold the lead, as Kaz Matsui singled in Wright in the fifth, pulling the Mets even at 6.

"I'm throwing good enough stuff to get hitters out, but at times, I'm not. That's the frustrating thing," Johnson said. "When you throw six or seven pitches to Matsui and he's hanging in there, then he hits a slider down and in for a base hit, how can you say that's not frustrating?"

"When it's bad, you think too much about it sometimes and it becomes counterproductive," Torre said. "The concern I have is that we want to fix it sooner than later, because there's a big mental part of this game. You have to feel good about yourself."

Aaron Heilman, who entered the game in the sixth, threw three perfect innings, giving the Mets a chance to break the tie. But Scott Proctor, who relieved Johnson in the sixth, threw two hitless innings, while Kyle Farnsworth threw a 1-2-3 eighth, moving the tie game into the ninth.

Torre considered leaving Farnsworth in the game, but the reliever experienced some tightness in his back, prompting the manager to call on Rivera.

After Rivera retired Reyes, Lo Duca ripped a double to left, putting the winning run in scoring position. Rivera struck out Beltran for the second out, then intentionally walked Carlos Delgado. Wright then came through with the big hit, drilling the game-winner over Johnny Damon's head in center field.

"I think he hit a good pitch," Rivera said. "I was surprised. I thought it was a fly ball. Apparently, he hit it good."

"He missed his spot with David Wright," Torre said. "That's a tough part of the order to go through. He tried to make a pitch, he didn't make it and they beat us."

The Yankees get their next shot at the Mets on Saturday, as Mike Mussina takes on Pedro Martinez. But Johnson must wait until Wednesday night in Boston to take his next crack at solving his own personal puzzle.

"I don't know. I really don't. I'm not going to [lie to] you guys. I'm too old and have been around too long," he told reporters. "I'm not too old and my stuff's not that bad. I just don't have the answers right now."

"It's a very humbling game. I'm humbled, but I'm not going to quit," the lefty added. "I'm not a quitter. I know my teammates need me. I need them, so I'll continue to battle."

Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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