7, 2001: New York Mets at New York Yankees, Yankee Stadium
I'm not a big fan
of interleague play. But living in Manhattan, I enjoy the way New York City sets
itself on edge over the midseason collision between the Mets and the Yankees.
The Subway Series may not play so well with folks in Peoria, but they're too busy
watching the Cubs battle the White Sox for crosstown supremacy to complain. Matchups
like these are the crown jewels of interleague play; the opportunity to consumate
these long-hypothetical geographic rivalries is what mitigates (in the mind of
Bud Selig, at least) the dreck at the other end of the spectrum. Minnesota-Pittsburgh,
The powers that
be have been fortunate that both the Yankees and the Mets have been contenders
during the interleague era. But even the Subway Series has lost some of its luster.
For one thing, the two teams met last October in the World Series, a true Subway
Series reminiscent of a Golden
Age when the Dodgers and Giants took turn battling the crosstown Yankees for
baseball supremacy. The artifice of their regular-season meeting has been made
too obvious; this season only the tabloids interested in stirring the Roger Clemens-Mike
Piazza controversy have greeted the home-and-home series with much more than a
collective raised eyebrow.
Of course, the
teams' divergent fortunes haven't helped matters. The Mets have been shadows of
their championship form this season. General Manager Steve Phillips's anti-plan
of making no significant effort to improve his team last winter has reaped the
rewards of mediocrity: a team which entered the weekend series 12 games under
.500. Stars such as Edgardo Alfonzo, Al Leiter and Mike Piazza have struggled
at times, and manager Bobby Valentine, hailed as a genius or at least tolerated
as an excellent motivator of troops during happier days, is now pilloried as a
blowhard responsible for his players' underachievement.
Meanwhile, in another
part of the galaxy, the imperial force known as the Yankees has finally rediscovered
their winning ways, having captured their ninth straight victory to open the series
on Friday night. Thanks to the recent opportunity to feast on Oriole and Devil
Ray pitching, their long-dormant offense, particularly first baseman Tino Martinez,
has sprung to life.
With the Yanks'
recent success, I was surprisedeven with the diminished luster of this matchupto
find our subway ride up to Yankee Stadium felt like a ghost train. There was no
shoving anyone else out of the way to get a seat, no taunting anyone for wearing
the wrong color hat, no buzz whatsoever among the few passengers bound for the
game. But our arrival in the Bronx heralded a return to orderthe stadium
was packed with fans of both stripes; we were simply a bit late. A near-comical
effort to find our seats ensued, as we trekked from the upper deck of right-field
to the main level of left-field in bewilderment.
Our assigned seats,
which we reached in time for the first pitch, were far from optimal, and even
further from home plate. Stuck way down the line and practically looking over
our right shoulders, we were unable to pick up the ball as it reached the hitter.
Fly balls disappeared from view, their location only to be surmised from the scattering
of outfielders. Worse, our near-aisle seats apparently called for each and every
patron in the adjacent section to block our view of at least one pitch. My beer-addled
neighbor crawled over me twice en route to the bathroom before either side had
batted around. By the top of the third inning, I lost patience and suggested a
trip to our familiar upper deck.
Once we improved
our seats to a previously unoccupied pair in Section 640, we were afforded a birds-eye
view of a tight pitcher's duel between an Ape and a Moose (a matchup apparently
sponsored by Mutual of Omaha's "Wild Kingdom"). But it wasn't a particularly
exciting one, unless you were Marlon Perkins. I've already filed my position
paper with regards to Mets pitcher Kevin Appier's stylehe works so slowly
they could run advertisements between his pitches. But whatever he was doing was
baffling the Yankees. He held them hitless through five innings, then survived
three straight frames with runners on first and second. Appier departed after
a economical 107 pitches, allowing only four hits, all singles, in his eight innings.
If the Mets had gotten more performances like this from their $42 million pitcher,
this crosstown matchup may have resonated more loudly.
Mike Mussina was
less economical, but much more engaging. Seven baserunners gave him ample opportunity
to exhibit the "drinking
bird," his stretch delivery consisting of an extreme bow toward home plate
at the beginning of his motion. Jorge Posada came to his aid, throwing out two
runners tyring to steal. The Moose still had most of the Mets hitters fooled;
he struck out the side in the first, and ten overall in his seven innings. But
like Appier, he departed without a decision for his troubles.
The Yank offense
was listless all day long, swinging early in the count, tapping weak grounders
to the left side of the infield. Paul O'Neill embodied their misery, first hitting
into a double play, then striking out, "+
helmet" as I noted on my scorecard. Shane Spencer finally broke up the no-hitter
leading off the sixth, but to no great effect. The only real Yankee threat lasted
about two seconds in the eighth inning. Scott Brosius blooped to center field,
where Jay Payton failed to hold onto the ball following a sliding somersault.
As the ball squibbed free, Brosius tried to stretch it to a double, but an alert
Timo Perez scooped up in time to nail Scotty by two steps.
Three hours and
nine innings into the afternoon, neither team had generated a single run. But
the crowd remained intense. Cheers of a four-beat "Let's Go Yank-ees!" were countered
by a "Let's Go Mets!" triplet, concentrated pockets of fans trying to outdo their
opposing neighbors for volume until everything swirled together in a vortex of
entered the game in the top of the tenth for the Yanks, and I couldn't help but
wince a little. As dominant as he's been, he's struggled at the games I've attendedbattered
by Baltimore, bruised but not beaten
by Boston and Oakland.
He looked in command as he set down Rey Ordo-ez and Joe McEwingthen again,
who wouldn't? Desi Relaford staved off defeat with a single, the first Philly
hit since the fifth inning. Rivera worked Edgardo Alfonzo to 2-2, but Relaford
stole second, and the pesky second baseman spoiled two potential game-ending pitches
by fouling them off.
Then the dam broke.
Rivera proceeded to walk Alfonzo, and he seemed a passive observer as Piazza,
Perez, and Todd Zeile all lashed consecutive run-scoring singles at his expense.
The Yanks went down meekly in the bottom of the inning, the winning streak was
over, and the Mets had saved face in this round of the Subway Series.
By the time I got
home, the Yankees had announced that Rivera would miss the All-Star Game in Seattle
due to an inflammation in his ankle. Whether this was a true injury or just a
convenient spin to put on a rough afternoon, it seemed as lame as an excuse as
Mario's pitching when
I've seen him. With so many cogs in the Yankee machine underperforming this
season, it would be fatal to have Mariano counted among them. Yankee fans can
only hope that this is a blip on the radar, and that the extra rest will do him
Mets 3, Yankees 0. Zero beers, one soda, one hot dog, two nomadic Yankees
fans, and a big three runs charged to the Yanks' ace reliever. BOX