The long awaited match-up between the New York Mets and New York Yankees is finally upon us. And for the first time in many years, this year’s version of the Subway Series carries a different feel; a feel of October. Both teams are riding high in their respective division’s. The Mets hold a two game lead over Atlanta in the NL East, while the Yankees hold baseball’s best record at 66-31, and are running away with the AL East.
Tonight they finally meet, a battle of goliaths. Two teams with World Series dreams, with plenty of work to do in front of them between now and the playoffs.
In years past the Yankees-Mets rivalry has taken on various forms. In its early incarnation in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, both teams were good at the same time. The Yankees, of course, were winning World Series’, while the Mets were always the Little Engine That Could. They traded for Mike Piazza in 1998, and kept trying to push the buttons of the Atlanta Braves, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Yankees, and just about anyone who stood in their way.
By 2000 the series went from intrigue to pure and utter hatred of the other. A lot of that can be pinned to Roger Clemens throwing a 98 mph heater at Piazza’s head. Then those same two teams met a few months later in the World Series, and Clemens threw a shared bat in Piazza’s direction down the first base line. Clemens and Piazza never exchanged blows, (although to this day they certainly don’t exchange Christmas cards), but for Mets and Yankees fans it was personal. There was a certain amount of disdain. The Yankees would wipe the floor with the Mets in the 2000 World Series and in five excruciating games too, as every game was decided by two runs or less.
Yankees fans looked at the Mets as second class citizens, not worthy of the prestige, power and tradition of New York’s preeminent and ordained baseball franchise.
Mets fans looked on in green-eyed jealously at the Yankees. To them, the Yankees were rich, snobbish, always got the hot girl (or in most cases the prized free agent). They had a short stop who never did anything wrong, a group of former Mets from the 80’s (Darryl, Doc, David Cone, pitching coach Mel Stottelmeyer), and an owner who would do anything to win. (**Put a pin on that last statement**).
By 2006 the rivalry started to thaw out. The Mets started winning more head-to-head matchups with the Yankees, who had come down to earth a bit since their World Series glory days. Perhaps the Boston Red Sox breaking of the Curse of the Bambino in 2004 defanged the Yankees perceived invincibility in many ways. In 2008, the Mets actually swept a three-game series in the old Yankee Stadium. Carlos Delgado went off on a Saturday afternoon in late June with 9 RBI in one game for the Amazin’s. At that point it felt like the rivalry was even.
After that the passion and intrigue for the Subway Series had faded away. The Mets had a string of bad years following their back-to-back collapses in 2007 and 2008. The Yankees, despite winning it all in 2009, were never really as good as they were a decade earlier. The Core Four was getting old, and Alex Rodriguez was a constant headline — usually for all the wrong reasons.
By 2017 there was a new group of Bombers coming up. Aaron Judge; Gleyber Torres; Luis Severino. Free agent trades and signings like Aroldis Chapman and Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees were building something, and still are. Their number one concern of course has been trying to get over the hump of the Houston Astros — in many ways mirroring the Mets of the late 90s, who couldn’t get past Atlanta.
The Mets have had their own rebuild. Pete Alonso; Brandon Nimmo; Jeff McNeil; the Cy Young years of Jacob deGrom. A new owner, who is Steinbrenner-esq in his approach to winning, and like the Yankees late boss, is not afraid to spend whatever it takes. Steve Cohen traded for and signed Francisco Lindor to a huge 10-year deal. Then he signed Max Scherzer to another max contract. And if given the chance, Cohen will probably try to outbid the Yankees, or anyone else for Juan Soto — when he becomes a free agent in two years. How Yankee-like are these new Mets you ask? Well, they even have the Bombers former manager in Buck Showalter leading the charge.
And here they stand: The Yankees are 66-31, the best record in baseball. A team worthy of challenging the Astros for the AL title. The Mets, 59-37, in first place in the NL East, and a legit challenger to the Dodgers and Braves for NL supremacy. The days of bitterness of the late 90s/early 00’s are long gone, replaced instead — and rightfully so — by mutual respect. It’s hard not to look at this year’s match-up and not be intrigued.
Two teams once so different, are not so different anymore. They are almost mirror images of the other. And they meet tonight and Wednesday at Citi Field. Next month they’ll do it again for a couple of nights at Yankee Stadium.
Then, who knows what October will bring.