On Thursday, the Mets and Yankees completed the annual battle for New York; the Subway Series. In baseball's golden years, this meant two New York teams (Yankees, Dodgers or Giants) meeting in the World Series. But now, the term is attached to the regular season meeting between the Mets and Yankees.
This year marks the 20th season of interleague play in baseball and I must admit the Mets-Yankees meeting is losing its luster, at least to me. The four game series - two at Citi Field and two at the new Yankee Stadium were split, with each team winning one at each other's ballpark. The games were long; the thrills few. Other than a strange scene in the final game where Mets pitcher Hansel Robles accused the Yankees' Mark Teixera of "stealing signs" (signaling the type of pitch about to be delivered to his teammates), and a half-hearted, bench emptying moment, the series was not all that memorable. For one thing, the Yankees, prior to the series, traded a number of star players for future prospects. I can't recall in my lifetime the Yankees waiving the white flag in early August. Meanwhile, since the All Star break, the Mets haven't been able to win two games in a row, yet believe they still have a shot at post season play.
When interleague play started in 1997, I was against it. The purest in me is strong. And while I'm still not thrilled by it, I do admit to having vivid memories of those initial Mets-Yankees meetings, both on and off the field. I'll share three of them.
In that first year, I attended the rubber game at Yankee Stadium with my wife, Susan, who at the time was "great with child." Our son would be born several weeks later. Several other folks that I worked with were also there, a mix of Met and Yankee fans. We arrived from Manhattan on the number 4 train and entered a packed house on a weekday afternoon. Missing work to attend a game is one of life's great joys, even for me if it was in the Bronx. I hadn't been in Yankee Stadium in over 20 years and this was a great atmosphere. Fans were chanting, trying to out yell each other. One of my work colleagues, a Met fan some might think of imposing stature, was particularly vocal, so much so that a fan several rows ahead stood up and turned around, in an act of intimidation. His quest for silence was quickly aborted however when my colleague also stood up and conveyed "are you talking to me?" without saying a word. Priceless. On the field, the Mets had tied in the 8th on a run scoring balk, caused by a dancing Steve Bieser who disrupted Yankee starter (and former Met) David Cone. Unfortunately, this was the extent of the Mets offense that day. The Yankees won the game in the bottom of the 9th. The final score was Yankees 2 - Mets 1, and even though the Mets lost, many of us refer to this as the Bieser Game.
The next year, it was Shea's turn to host three games. Susan and I attended the very first one, a Friday night in Queens. The Yankees beat the Mets - again - and in painful fashion for Met fans. With the Mets leading 4-3 in the 7th inning, Mets manager Bobby Valentine called in Mel Rojas from the bullpen to face the Yankees' Paul O'Neill. Most Met fans cringed, knowing what was likely to happen. O'Neill didn't disappoint our fears and promptly hit a 3 run homer. The Yankees went on to win 8-4. My highlight of that game didn't happen on the field but in the stands. Our 5 year old daughter Katie joined with other Met fans to chant "Yankees sunk; Yankees sunk." Actually, they were chanting something slightly different than Katie. Or maybe Katie just had the teams mixed up, because clearly the Mets were sunk this night.
And finally, let's jump ahead to a hot summer Saturday afternoon in 1999, again at Shea. This game was a slugfest, with both teams scoring often and the lead changing hands multiple times. When the Yankees took the lead 8-7 in the 8th, I didn't have much hope of ever seeing the Mets beat the Yankees. The invincible Mariano Rivera was summoned by Joe Torre to close out the game. This looked bleak. Two Yankee fans, seated in the row behind us, were in their glory, gloating about the inevitable and ready to dance on our grave. But somehow, the Mets managed to put runners 2nd and 3rd with two outs. Bobby Valentine called on pinch hitter Matt Franco. The odds clearly were not with the Mets. With two strikes, Franco took a pitch that looked to everyone like strike three, everyone except the home plate umpire. Since his call is the only one that mattered, Franco and Met fans got a 2nd chance. Rivera's next pitch was promptly smacked into right field, with both the tying and winning runs scoring. Shea erupted in euphoria. Players mobbed Franco. Met fans were jumping and hugging. I had finally seen, in person, the Mets defeating the mighty Yankees. As much as the id in me wanted to turn around and give the two Yankee fans behind me a pair of one-finger salutes, I just smiled and thought about their long ride home. This game is in my list of top 10 best moments at Shea.
So now its back to the reality of this baseball season. The Yankees' Mark Teixeira announced his retirement at the end of this season. ARod aka Alex Rodriguez announced he is retiring as of Friday, or at least I think he is. And the Mets pull out a victory yesterday against the Tigers. So I ask myself: will the Mets get hot and ride into the postseason? Or will they continue to tread water as August becomes September and September becomes "wait 'till next year?" I hope for the former but, as most Met fans do, brace for the latter. At the moment, I'd be happy if they managed to win two games in a row.