NEW YORK -- They should have waited three more weeks to play this game. Imagine Pedro Martinez pitching against the New York Yankees on Father's Day.
Pedro dazzled his daddies yesterday. Too bad his teammates wouldn't let him beat the Yankees. Pitching in front of the largest Shea Stadium crowd (55,953) in 40 years, Martinez held the Yanks to one run on four hits in seven dominant innings. He left with a 3-1 lead, but the Mets committed a pair of errors, allowing three unearned runs in the eighth, and the dreaded Empire won the rubber game of the Subway Series, 5-3.
Come to think of it, where's He Who Must Not Be Named when you need him? We'll never know what would have happened yesterday if Mets manager Willie Randolph had left Pedro in to pitch the eighth inning against the Yankees.
''It was not that different," Martinez said when asked about pitching against the Yanks for his new team. ''But this time I had more fans behind me. Less middle fingers. Less hate words. The Yankees are the Yankees. I respect them. I compete against them. But there's nothing emotional about it."
Later, sounding like Mark McGwire before Congress, Martinez said, ''I'm not here to talk about the Yankees. Enough of the Yankees. They're a good team. That's all I have to say."
In many ways it was a lot like the games Pedro pitched against the Yanks when he was with the Red Sox. He kept his team in the game, but there was no W at the end of the day. This was the sixth straight time he'd started against the Yankees without getting a win. It's always something when Pedro faces the Bombers and this time he was the victim of messy fielding and bad relief pitching.
There were some concerns in New York in the wake of Martinez's last two outings. He'd given up two homers in each of the games and threw most of his pitches in the mid- to high 80s. Then he had an MRI and took a shot because of inflammation in his right hip. His start against the Yankees was delayed two days, and some of us wondered if maybe he'd hurt himself in the process of trying to impress his new employers.
Jerry Seinfeld was standing on the grass in front of the mound, holding a baseball, when Martinez first stood on the hill. After a nice sidearm ceremonial toss by Seinfeld (no sign of Costanza in the Yankees dugout), Pedro got the ball and started his warmups.
Some of the drama was missing because Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Gary Sheffield were not in Joe Torre's starting lineup. Jeter was hit in the left elbow by Kris Benson Saturday and couldn't swing the bat (he pinch ran in the eighth). Posada was hurting with a shoulder injury, also suffered Saturday, and Sheffield's left hand is sore -- probably because he swings the bat more ferociously than anyone in baseball.
Those three are a big part of the old Pedro vs. Yankees drama. Jeter was hit on the hand by Martinez in 2003, and Sheffield said ''no more buddy passes" after he was plunked by Martinez last year. Posada is the player Pedro threatened to hit in the head on the day of the Zimmer throwdown in the 2003 playoffs.
It was 58 degrees and surprisingly sunny when Martinez got Tony Womack on a fly to right to start the game. He retired Robinson Cano on a broken-bat grounder, then the crowd stood when he worked the count to 1 and 2 on Alex Rodriguez. Alas, A-Rod grounded a single up the middle. Pedro got ahead of Hideki Matsui, 0 and 2, but the fellow with the size 8 head fouled off many good pitches and roped a hard single down the right-field line. The hit was not unlike Matsui's double in the fateful eighth inning of Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.
Martinez registered 94 miles per hour on the stadium radar gun against Bernie Williams, then walked the veteran on a 3-and-2 pitch that was pretty close. He got out of the bases-loaded jam, getting Jason Giambi to pop up on his 31st pitch of the scoreless first.
''I wasn't sure how I was going to feel at first," Martinez said. ''But I finally made some pitches and got some effort into it and realized everything was fine."
More than fine. Martinez didn't allow another runner until Womack opened the sixth with a bloop single. This was mildly reminiscent of Pedro's last game with the Sox when he beat the Cardinals in the third game of the World Series. He was on the ropes early but settled down and went through the lineup with ease.
Thanks to a hideous error by Rodriguez, the Mets got Pedro a couple of runs in the second. It was as if we were time-traveling back to those wonderful nights in October when the Sox were magic and A-Rod was tragic. With two on and two out, Martinez (hitless in his last 50 at-bats at that time) hit a routine grounder to Rodriguez. It clanged off A-Rod's glove for what would amount to a two-run error when Jose Reyes followed with an RBI single to right.
Pedro had retired 13 consecutive Yankees when Womack led off the sixth with a bloop single to right-center. Womack stole second, then scored on a single to center by A-Rod. Including postseason play, it gave Rodriguez eight hits in his last 19 times up against Martinez.
Pedro was back on his game in the seventh, getting the Yankees in order. He caught former teammate Rey Sanchez looking at strike three for his final (No. 99) pitch of the day. After the 31-pitch first, he never threw more than 14 pitches in any inning.
Lefty Dae-Sung Koo was burned by the infield errors in the eighth, then Roberto Hernandez came on and gave up solid RBI hits to Matsui and Williams.
Why take Martinez out after 99 pitches? We know the drill.
''He was a little bit fatigued," said Randolph. ''He was pretty much at his limit. He hadn't pitched in about seven days."
Randolph said there was no discussion about letting Martinez go out for the eighth. And there'll be no daddy talk from the manager.
''That's all a lot of [expletive]," said Randolph. ''He just said that in jest. I don't think the Yankees think they're his daddy."
Maybe not. But they almost always seem to win. Even when Pedro dominates like he did yesterday at Shea.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is email@example.com.