by Robert Ferringo - 05/19/2006
No matter what Joe Buck tries to tell you, the Yankees-Mets rivalry is neither the Hatfields against the McCoys nor Israel against the PLO. In fact, given that the Mets haven't made the postseason since their 2000 loss to the Yankees in the World Series, the "rivalry" between Gotham's two teams has been more like Eddie Murphy against Charlie Murphy in a joke off, or Emilio Estevez against Charlie Sheen in a stripper banging contest.
The annual rendition of the Subway Series will begin in Shea Stadium this weekend when the Yankees (24-15) stroll into Queens to take on the Mets (24-16). Friday's opener will mark the 49th meeting between the two clubs. Quite naturally, the damn Yankees control the series 29-19 and are 6-0-3 in overall season series.
Due in large part to the East Coast Bias and to the sheer size of the Big Apple, the Yankees-Mets set is the headliner in the first weekend of interleague play. I mock the overblown "rivalry" between the two organizations, but this series is actually quite significant because as of Thursday afternoon each of these high-profile clubs had at least a share of its division lead.
With both squads tussling with its natural division rivals, it almost seems as if the Subway Series is a nuisance, or at least an afterthought in the Apple. Which begs the question: has the luster worn off of the annual feud? According to Mets skipper and former Yankees coach Willie Randolph it has.
"The fans love it, and it's nice for the fans to have bragging rights. But I think it's really run its course," Randolph was quoted as saying in the New York Times. "It means something in the standings, but I'd rather bang heads with the people in our own division."
I'm sure Joey from Queens and Mario from the Bronx will disagree.
While Willie is trying to deflect any pressure off the delicate psyche of his Mets, his claims that the Subway Series has "run its course" is absurd. Of course it's not as critical or as heated as a Sox-Yanks or Mets-Braves series, but these two do feed from the same trough and are always going to be fighting for top billing on the back pages. Also, this is still a head-to-head showdown of two of the top six or seven teams in all of baseball through the first quarter of the season.
The Mets rolled out to a scorching start in 2006. They began the season 11-2, and were 22-8 in early May with a healthy six-game lead in the division. However, the Mets are a notoriously horrid team in the Mother's Month. They are just 3-6 in their last nine, and have seen their lead shrink to just two over Philadelphia in the last three weeks.
Despite the Chicken Little claims in the New York media, the Yankees' sky is not falling. They definitely don't have the pitching advantage that they've enjoyed for a decade, and key players like Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield are on the disabled list. However, they are 10-4 since May 3 and have won seven of their last eight series.
The pressure is all on the Yankees, according to Randolph. It always will be as long as their payroll is greater than the GDP of Guam and as long as they flaunt their heritage and pedigree like Paris Hilton after a few vodka-tonics. But entering this weekend, it seems as if the Mets are the ones with the pressure squarely on their shoulder. Constantly fighting the "Little Brother Syndrome" it's up to the Amazin's to prove that they are for real, and that their solid play thus far isn't an aberration.
Here's a quick breakdown of the three-game set between the Bronx Bombers and the Miracle Mets:
Game 1: Randy Johnson (5-4) vs. Jeremi Gonzalez (0-0), Friday at 7:10 p.m.
Johnson has lost two straight starts, his fastball and cutter are both flat, and he's surrendered 30 runs in his last six outings. Other than that he's been great. To make matters worse, even when The Big Unit was at the height of his power the Mets always seemed to have his number. Also, if The Unit can't hold it together for more than six innings and the Mets can get into that suspect Yankee bullpen, trouble could ensue. However, Johnson is a Big Game Guy and I expect him to have a little pop on his fastball Friday night.
Gonzalez is the close-your-eyes-and-hope-for-the-best starter for the Mets. He's started just one game this year, giving up three runs in five innings against Milwaukee back on May 13. The one thing that Gonzalez does have going for him is that he faced the Bombers four times last year as a member of the Red Sox. Now that's pressure. Over six innings he faced 24 total Yankees in 2005, yielding one run on five hits.
Game 2: Mike Mussina (6-1) vs. Pedro Martinez (5-0), Saturday at 1:20 p.m.
The shame of this game is that by the time Peter throws out the first pitch I will likely be laying face down in a puddle of beer and urine in the infield of Pimlico. But for those of you who are just a bit more civilized (and won't be at the Preakness) you should see a choice pitching match up.
Mussina is yet to give up more than three earned runs in his nine starts this season. He is 5-2 with a 4.01 ERA in his career against the Mets, including a loss last year. The Moose has been in a groove, particularly in day games. In three afternoon starts in '06 he is 3-0 with a miniscule 1.40 ERA. The Yankees have been MLB's best day team in 2006, posting a 12-2 mark.
For some reason, I feel like the Yankees are to be familiar with Pedro. In his illustrious career Martinez is 11-10 with a 3.13 ERA against the Yankees, and has been a pebble in the shoe of the Giant for nearly a decade. Pedro is one of the league leaders in strikeouts, but has three consecutive no decisions. Don't forget, Carlos Beltran morphs into Willie Mays when Pete is on the mound.
Call it a hunch, but I could see this game going over. I expect a pretty low total, and if you can snag it at less than six, that could be a decent play. Pedro has a 5.14 ERA this season, and he has given up eight homers in roughly 54 innings.
Game 3: Shawn Chacon (4-1) vs. Tom Glavine (6-2), Sunday at 8 p.m.
Chacon is still bloody and battered after his Tuesday start against Texas. He was ripped for eight runs in just over one inning of work. But hey, I guess that mean's he'll be well rested. There are rumors of a sore shin on his left (plant) leg, so that's something to keep an eye on.
Tommy has been terrific - as per usual - this season, but it's the Mets offense that's finally caught up to him. Glavine was receiving just 2.9 runs per outing, but has seen the Amazin's offense post double-digit run totals in each of his last two wins. The lefty has a 3-2 regular season record against the Yankees in seven starts, including a win last summer.
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