Make no mistake: Last night was fun.
There was Endy, gunning down Johnny Damon and turning our groans into cheers. There was Endy again, walloping an Andy Pettitte offering over the fence. There was Perez, whose game was in some ways more impressive than his Mother's Day throttling of the Brewers. He had everything working then; last night he had to do some improvising, and do so with his emotions threatening to boil over. That was a truer test of him as a student of the Jacket than blitzing the Brewers, and he got an A. So did Joe Smith, summoned into the game to face Derek Jeter, with his jeweler's eye for the strike zone and the scary ability to rise to any occasion. (Damn him.) Smith stayed cool through a nine-pitch battle and then cut perhaps the thinnest sliver off the black to sit Jeter down. And how about an A for Billy Wagner, quietly having a remarkable season?
There were a lot of indelible images, from the vulture stare of Pettitte and Brian Cashman looking stricken to Oliver's valedictory high jump over the line, Smith's quietly skeptical look in at the plate and Carlos Gomez's face caving in after his (harmless) dropped foul pop. But what struck me was how calm I was. Sure, Emily and I let out some whoops and used every private incantation we had to coax Smith and Wagner through their confrontations with Jeter and Jason Giambi. But we weren't white-knuckling it — there wasn't that feeling of previous Subway Series (Serieses?) like your heart had swollen until it was mashed up against your ribs and every Yankee hit pushed some more air out of your lungs.
It was curious, this relative detachment. And then I realized where it came from. It came from 2006.
The Atlanta Braves look much improved. I think we all sense that this year isn't going to be a leisurely stroll to the division title — the Braves are going to be trading blows with us all year. But I'm not afraid of them anymore. Turner Field is no longer haunted, the chop is just an irritating noise, and Andruw's smirk and Chipper's Joker sneer are no longer portents of doom. Beltran's march to the sea to finish July ended that era. Now the Braves are just another team — one I respect and fret about, but one stripped of its ability to terrify. 2006 did that.
And then there are the Yankees. The Subway Series has been billed as a chance for the Mets to make a statement on the New York baseball stage since Dave Mlicki and Andy Pettitte kicked it off 10 years ago. A lot of that statement stuff was bullshit to sell papers, of course — but no matter how fervently we denied it, part of it was true. In 1997 the Yankees were World Champions. They didn't win that year, but in 1998 they won a title as the Braves kept us out of the playoffs, in 1999 they won a title as the Braves kept us out of the World Series, and in 2000 they won a title by beating … us. (Sometimes I think about that and am honestly surprised I lived through it.) Happily, they haven't won since, but they were playing in October in the early 2000s while we were enduring the likes of Jason Phillips and Art Howe. In situations like that, in a town where baseball isn't really a zero-sum game but sure feels like one when discussed in bars and cubicles and newspapers, of course we wanted to make a statement. It wasn't the stuff of the apocalypse, but it was true.
But last night there was this weird sense of calm. Maybe, I thought, it reflected the fact that the Yankees are in disarray right now and we're rolling along rather nicely. But we've had previous meetings where we felt like we were in the high on the Gotham baseball teeter-totter, and back then I was reliably a pathetic mess by first pitch. So what was it?
And then I found it, something so simple and obvious that it was strange I'd missed it. It was last year. We won 97 games, same as them. We were playing for a pennant after their season was over. We lost two starting pitchers and came within a little blooper of the World Series while they tried to decide whether or not to fire their manager. All that happened in 2006, and now we're looking to build on it. We may not have 26 rings (baby), but we're not obsessed with itemizing our jewelry over here. (And besides, they haven't added to their collection in a while.)
The Subway Series will always be special. The Yankees will never be just another team. Beating them will always make us stand a little taller, and losing to them will always hurt a little more. But after 2006, there are no statements that need to be made.
I don't have any idea how the story of 2007 will end. And the story of 2006 is over. But I don't think I truly appreciated 2006 until I realized how it's shaped 2007. Because of 2006, being 2-4 against the Braves is hardly the stuff of panic, and taking the first game from the Yankees is sweet but not like winning the baseball lottery. After years of looking up at the Braves and the Yankees, 2006 showed us they're not so big. It's 2007, and we're looking them right in the eye — in fact, I daresay we might be a little taller. And we're pretty sure they'll blink first.
That's all the statement we need.