The stage has been set by Carlos Beltran's and Jimmy Rollins' comments in the past two seasons about which team is "the team to beat" in the National League East. Creating a rivalry that has been long over do between the New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies.
It's May 14th and the New York Mets are currently the division leaders of the NL East. First place is going to require a little more than good hitting, pitching, and defense.
The Braves and Marlins have shown that they are no pushovers. The Braves are loaded with good starting pitching behind sinker-baller Derek Lowe, sophomore Jair Jurrjens, and strike thrower Javier Vazquez. Not to forgot Mr. ole' reliable and Met killer Chipper Jones.
The Braves show that they can compete in this division. Fundamentals have been the cornerstone, along with great pitching for this franchise. The spark is provided by Manager Bobby Cox, who's not afraid to go to bat for his players and it shows in being the all-time ejections leader among mangers in the modern-era.
As for the Florida Marlins, this is a team that's loaded with proven young hitters and a staff full of front end rotation starters. On the defensive side, the Fish are not too solid but have been a major thorn in the Mets side the last two season, just ask Tom Glavine and Oliver Perez. Knocking off the Mets on the last day of the season in 2007 and 2008.
The Nationals, well lets just say, not this year. Pitching and defense wins in the Majors and the Nats, although talented, don't have what it takes to last in 162 games. So that leaves the Mets and Phillies.
The question is, with all the talent the New York Mets have, do they scare anybody? In 2006, the Mets dominated and were by far the best team in the National League, if not all of the Majors. They had confidence and were cocky, and they were also having fun. Teams around the league began hating the Mets similar to the way the league hated the 1986 Mets Championship team.
Then Game 7 happened vs. the St. Louis Cardinals. As Carlos Beltran made the final out that game, you can see the wind come right out of the whole team. They insistly turned into that little boy at the circus who witnessed his balloon float away in the October sky.
Since 2006, the team has made some major changes including the firing of Manager Willie Randolph, trades of Aaron Heilman, fan-favorite Endy Chavez, not to mention a major injury to closer Billy Wagner which lead to last years fall from grace. But the core of players is still in place. The Phillies have upgraded all around and play as a "team" proving that in last year's championship run and brilliant season of closer Brad Lidge.
The last two seasons Septembers have not gone the way Mets fans have hoped and dreamed of. In order for the 2009 Mets team to be dominate again, they need a "spark". Not Jose Reyes starting off a game with one of his breathtaking triples, not Johan Santana creating the energy he does that New York fans haven't seen since Dwight Gooden took the mound.
They need more than that to overcome the no-fear, fightin' Phils. In a two game sweep of the defending World Champs something happened that not one of the 1986 players would have taken lightly.
With Shane Victorino on first, Chase Utley hit a grounder to the right side. After the put-out was made at first, a rundown of Victorino ensued. With Reyes, closing in and tossing the ball to Carlos Delgado, Victorino threw his shoulder at Reyes to get an obstruction call.
Very smart play on Victorino's part, but it was very surprising to see Reyes just take it. Clearly, Victorino could have just as well stuck his arm or hand out to get the call. This was a shoulder to the chest of Reyes and he was clearly sending a message to Reyes.
Truly this is not the NHL, where gloves fly at the blink of an eye, but do you really think Wally Backman, Keith Hernendez, or even mild-mannered Rafael Santana would have taking any of that lightly. Different team, different times.
Manager Jerrry Manuel was ejected by umpire Bill Welke after for arguing the call and finally showed some true emotions that the Mets haven't shown in two years. Mets fan, this might be that "spark" you all have been waiting for for so long, an awakening of a sleeping-giant.
Some believe more should have been done to prove that this 2009 Mets have had it being pushed around by this Phillies team like a school yard bully. 16 games remain in the "Turnpike Series" between the Mets and Phillies....the saga continues on June 9th, stage: Citifield, time: 7:10pm EST.