Paul O'Neill hit a three-run homer in the seventh inning on reliever Mel Rojas' first pitch and the Yankees beat the Mets 8-4 on Friday night in the opener of the eagerly anticipated series.
The Yankees came from behind three times to the delight of their fans, who sounded as though they made up half the sellout crowd of 53,404 at Shea Stadium.
"It was exciting. I think when you add 50,000 people in New York, whether it's at Shea Stadium or Yankee Stadium, it's a lot of fun," O'Neill said. "This is becoming a neat little tradition."
Mayor Rudolph Guiliani, an ardent Yankees fan, made up part of the Mets' largest crowd of the season. He sat in one of the two boxes built next to the backstop just for this series he was on the Yankees' side, of course.
"This is the fans' game. The fans, that's what it's all about," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "It is pretty special when you have the fans trying to outdo each other."
O'Neill's home run put the Yankees ahead 6-4 and sent them to their third straight win while stopping the Mets' three-game winning streak.
Al Leiter, who grew up in New Jersey rooting for the Mets, took a 4-3 lead into the seventh against the Yankees, the team that gave up on him early in his career. But the major league ERA leader ran into trouble when he walked Chuck Knoblauch with one out.
Derek Jeter followed with a broken-bat grounder that first baseman John Olerud fielded wide of the bag. Jeter made a head-first slide for a single, beating Olerud's flip to Leiter.
Leiter (9-4) strained his left knee covering the base and could not continue.
"What messed me up was the way it actually happened," Leiter said. "When Jeter dove, I tried to tag him and I planted with the cleat and I kind of turned out. That's when I twisted it."
Leiter will undergo an MRI exam Saturday. Mets manager Bobby Valentine said Leiter is "real questionable" for his next start.
Once Leiter left, the Mets were forced to go to the bullpen, an area in which the Yankees believed they held an advantage in this interleague matchup.
Valentine said he brought in the right-handed Rojas to face the lefty O'Neill because "he's been getting left-handers out better than anyone in the bullpen."
O'Neill drove an opposite-field homer to left-center for a 6-4 lead, and the Yankees spilled out of the dugout to greet him.
"I'm glad we played here because that ball isn't out of Yankee Stadium," O'Neill said.
The Yankees added a pair of runs against John Hudek and Brian Bohanon in the eighth on RBI singles by Knoblauch and Jeter.
Ramiro Mendoza (5-1) was the inner, pitching 2 2-3 scoreless innings in relief of Hideki Irabu. Mariano Rivera got the final two outs for his 19th save, with the game ending on Edgardo Alfonzo's foul popup to catcher Jorge Posada with the bases loaded.
The Yankees won for the second time at Shea this season. They beat Anaheim in April when structural problems at Yankee Stadium made them switch ballparks for a day.
Brian McRae and Alfonzo hit solo home runs that put the Mets ahead 3-2 in the fifth. The Yankees tied it in the sixth when Posada doubled for his third hit and scored on Scott Brosius' single.
But Posada, a catcher making his first start in the majors at first base, showed his inexperience at the position as the Mets took a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the sixth.
Mike Piazza led off with a double and moved to third on Olerud's single. Carlos Baerga followed with a hard grounder to Posada, who stepped on the bag and, neglecting a possible play at the plate, threw down to second to trap Olerud. Piazza scored the go-ahead run as Olerud was tagged.
The Mets loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning, but managed only one run as Olerud grounded into a double play.
A bobble by Olerud at first base set up Posada's tying single in the fourth, and the Yankees took a 2-1 lead in the fifth when Piazza's passed ball led to Knoblauch's RBI single.
Notes: The Mets nearly turned their first triple play since 1989 in the second. With runners on first and second, shortstop Rey Ordonez made a diving catch on Chad Curtis' liner. Both runners were well off base, but Baerga was late covering second base and the Mets managed only a double play. ... Tim Raines of the Yankees batted cleanup for the first time since 1989 while with Montreal.
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