It’s June 6. Despite last night's debacle against the Nationals, the New York Mets are riding a prevailing swell of success engendered by exemplary performances from their rag-tag team of baseball no-names (with all due deference to Johan Santana and David Wright) and do not appear to be showing signs of relinquishing their place in the New York headlines anytime soon.
It’s June 6. The New York Yankees, although much better of late, are still somewhat mired in disappointment, struggling to reach the expectations baseball experts have placed at the feet of this consortium of aging but talented superstars.
If that is not cause enough to raise your eyebrows, consider that the Mets are in third place in their division, just a game and a half game out of first with a 31-25 record, and the Yankees' 30-24 record places them in the third spot in the AL East, a half game out of first.
The record of both teams is nearly identical.
Problem? If there is one, I sure don’t see it. I would suggest quite the opposite. This is a recipe for one hell of a subway series.
Now, no self-respecting baseball aficionado—Mets enthusiasts included—would be so brazen as to expect these rather chimerical trends to continue for the duration of the season. Sure, it could happen. However, the nucleus of the Mets squad is young and not quite battle-tested and the Yankees, like them or not, are blessed with a roster that reads like a “who’s who” of baseball eminence.
Logic dictates that at some point the planets will realign and the natural order will restore itself. However, this is baseball folks—logic is not always the prevailing force on the field, and it is often rendered moot by some improbable, unforeseen (perhaps divine?) circumstances.
Besides, nobody is talking about October yet. There’s plenty of time for that discussion.
The mere fact that this series means more than just New York bragging rights is enough to have Met fans bristling with joy and unflagging expectation.
Perhaps the Amazin’s can add to the already rich history that attenuates this classic showdown.
The Mets and Yankees met for the first time in regular season 15 years ago at Yankee Stadium. The Mets took the opener thanks to Dave Mlicki, who shut out the Yanks 9-0, scattering nine hits while striking out eight and walking just two. It was quite a moment for the franchise that often languishes in the cold shadow of the big, bad Yankee machine.
The Mets have enjoyed other great interleague moments as well.
In 2004, the Mets won the season series from the Yankees for the first time, going 4-2 while sweeping the three games at Big Shea.
In June 2005, the Mets won their first series at Yankee Stadium, and in May 2006, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and runners on first and second, David Wright accomplished the unthinkable by driving home the winning run for the Mets with a single off Yankees' icon closer Mariano Rivera.
In June of 2008, in the first game of a two-stadium, day-night doubleheader against the Yankees, Carlos Delgado drove in nine runs (including a grand slam) in a 15-6 victory for the Mets, setting a team record for most RBIs in a single game and tying the record for most RBIs in a single game by a visiting player at Yankee Stadium.
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And later that year, for just the second time, the Mets won the season series against the Yankees, 4-2, including the Mets' only sweep at the old Yankee Stadium.
All good stuff (we will not mention the Mike Piazza/Roger Clemens fiasco).
However, despite any Met success attained during these riveting dramas, the Met fan has always been left grappling with the troubling reality that Yankee fans are only too willing to expound:
“It doesn’t mean anything. What else have the Mets done? Just look at the standings.”
OK. Let’s see.
What else have the Mets done? Look at the standings? Yes. Thank you. Let’s have a look, shall we?
Alas, where do we begin?
For starters, a quick glance at the standings reveals once again a very impressive 31-25 record, not to mention their close proximity to first place in the National League East.
The Mets also lead the league in runs scored with two outs, are ninth in team batting, and the pitching staff has three complete games and six shutouts.
Not too shabby for a team predicted to finish in last place this year.
If one were so inclined to do so, he or she could also extol the inspired play of the Mets' rookie contingent—led by Kirk Nieuwenhuis—as well as the storybook season that R.A. Dickey is crafting.
Oh, and did I mention Johan Santana and the first no-hitter in New York Mets history?
Yes, folks, the New York Mets are sure an exciting team.
And even more scintillating is the opportunity to play their crosstown rivals this year—a match that now has even greater appeal. The Mets and their fans are no longer relegated to simply wishing for a respectable performance against their New York nemesis.
They are far more relevant than that.
Gone is the unremitting feeling that this series is the highlight of the season—that after the Mets and Yankees are finished squaring off, the Mets will be forced to return to the ignominious shadows of obscurity while the Yankees prepare for the long march to the postseason.
The Mets and their fans have bigger plans this year. A winning record? Wild card? The Fall Classic? In a year that has seen so many improbable occurrences, who’s to say any or all of these wishes are not plausible.
Heck, we can always dream. Mets fans are good at that.
For now, though, reality will suffice. All Mets fans can sit down this weekend and watch their team do battle with their media nemesis, all the while reveling in the splendor of pertinence and the burgeoning titillation that has accompanied this wonderful season.