- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

Our Town

There was not, to invoke a scenario [1] that others have used to promote their policies in the service of weightier matters, a surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship [2], but maybe there should have been something like it.

Maybe the principals should have been gathered on a 7 train idling for just this occasion. Better yet, maybe a table should have been rolled out to home plate moments after Josh Phelps struck out from the right side of that sacred and storied battleground. Papers could have been produced for the signature of one Joseph Paul Torre, certifying that the City of New York and its Metropolitan environs now belong lock, stock and baseball to the New York Mets. Dr. Willie Larry Randolph [3] could have notarized the documents and we could all get on with our lives.

Right after total strangers gathered in Times Square to express their glee and their thanks in an appropriate manner [4], that is.

It's V-Y Day.

It's V-Y Weekend.

It's V-Y Year.

Our season has indeed come, at least in these parts [5].

Let's not pretend any longer that the Mets playing the Yankees is a battle for bragging rights. If I want to brag, I'll brag that we lead the Braves by 2-1/2 games, that we have the best record in the National League, that we've won 13 of 17 despite two starting position players and two starting pitchers missing significant time of late. I'll brag that we have David Wright and Endy Chavez and Tom Glavine and Aaron Heilman, especially after each of them came through in his own special way Saturday [6]. I'll brag on the Mets because they make me happy and they make me proud to be among their legion of customers and chroniclers.

I'll not do more than duly note that we are the best team in New York. By a lot. By a frigging lot. Yet it hardly seems worth a boast anymore.

The New York Yankees feature some talented hitters and a couple of decorated veterans whom I'd prefer not to face with a game on the line. But so do any number of teams in the National League. The Cubs had some fierce bats and we beat them three of four. The Brewers sport an imposing lineup and good pitching and we beat them two of three. The Giants can be scary and we took two of three from them the week before last.

The Yankees aren't as good as the Cubs or the Brewers or the Giants. Or the Diamondbacks or the Marlins who we played before them. As we speak, only the Cardinals, Nationals and Rockies, among the eleven teams we've played in 2007, have a record worse than that of the Yankees. Only those three teams, along with the Devil Rays, Royals, Rangers and Reds, have performed at a lesser clip than the Yankees through a quarter of the schedule.

So I ask you, except for purposes of proximity, what's the big deal about our having beaten the Yankees these last two games?

It is no big deal. Except for purposes of proximity. Because of geography and the advent of Interleague play a decade ago, we are compelled to consider the Yankees to an extent few of us otherwise consider American League teams. We have been made intensely aware of what they've accomplished and what they've failed to accomplish these last dozen or so seasons. Because they're nearby. Because we play them six times annually.

From that perspective, what we do against them is a big deal. It's a big enough deal that, based on what I've lived through as a Mets fan in New York since 1996 and what I experienced Saturday afternoon and evening at Shea Stadium, I'm prepared to declare victory. Not “mission accomplished,” mind you, because our mission is to take things one game at a time. But in that other competition, the one that's implied, the one that for too bloody long has run terribly off track, the one that theoretically determines “who owns New York,” we have won.

Look around, Mets fans. Survey our kingdom. This is our town. This is Mets country until further notice. And I don't expect further notice to arrive for quite a while.

So we won a game. And we've clinched a series. And we're 9-1/2 games better than our crosstown rivals. I was about to say there's more to it than that, but come to think of it, is there? The Mets are a very good team as measured by pitching, hitting, running, fielding and managing. The Yankees, you may have noticed, are not. They are desperately short of everything these days, except maybe cash, and that they'll be doling out in record amounts to a semi-retired 44-year-old head case shortly.

Good luck with that.

The Mets have won games from the Yankees before. They've won series before. They even swept a Subway Series once. Those were all wondrous occasions, moments I celebrated for days on end, moments I still and will always treasure. But winning Friday and winning Saturday…it was different. For several reasons.

1) Beating the Yankees is no longer an urgent task except that they're on the schedule and you don't like to lose to your neighbors. But there are no bragging rights at stake when you beat a team that's under .500, is going nowhere in their league and hasn't won a world championship in what would have to be termed recent memory. Beating the Yankees an individual game or two in the Bobby Valentine era or finagling three of three [7] one glorious weekend under Art Howe was special. It was showing them. This May, it's what the Mets are supposed to do. It is, in fact, what the Mets do.

2) Beating the Yankees as we have these last two games rings (no pun intended) very familiar. The Friday night duel between Oliver Perez and Andy Pettitte felt very much like a Friday night duel in 2000 [8] between Orlando Hernandez and Al Leiter. The two pitchers exchanged zeroes and one big play made all the difference. Except we lost then and we won now. Saturday, the way the Mets held a commanding lead only to see the Yankees roar back and then fall just short, reminded me of another Saturday, the makeup night-half of a relatively obscure two-stadium doubleheader in 2003 [9]. Except we lost then and we won now. See what I'm getting at? We have become the team that finds ways to win every kind of game. Whereas they could be saved by Paul O'Neill robbing Derek Bell seven years ago, we are currently pushed over the top by Endy Chavez homering rather than bunting. And whereas all our comeback gumption could be undone by Raul Gonzalez's unskilled baserunning four years ago, they can not get past a parade of their own relievers and miscues now. When they play well, we play better. When we play sloppy, they play worse.

3) Beating the Yankees no longer blows the proverbial roof off Shea. Rain may have had something to do with it, but where I sat with Jim in the left field mezzanine, we were plenty covered by the upper deck. There weren't that many Yankees fans on hand to begin with and a noticeable percentage abandoned ship at 8-2. When 8-2 turned to 8-6 (Scott Schoeneweis determined to reincarnate himself as a latter-day Mel Rojas), of course we tensed. But the Yankee rabble wasn't that strong. If this were 1998 or even 2005 [10], I'd be certain we were staring into the abyss of humiliation. You don't want to be in those seats when the Yankees pass the Mets. But even after Rodriguez homered and Posada homered and balls were not properly flagged down, there was not that same strain of the wrong Let's Go chant I grew sickeningly used to when the Subway Series was a novelty. I braced, but it never came. And to be honest, I didn't brace that hard.

I remember it being said after the first night the Yankees invaded Shea Stadium for Interleague that they had employed their worst lineup of that season [11] and they won anyway. That's what Saturday felt like in reverse. Not that our lineup was bereft, but we couldn't have looked less certain of what we were doing at times. Glavine wasn't sharp early. Damion Easley seemed to be out of position all day. Infield throws were hit and miss. Green and Lo Duca did nothing at the plate. Tack-on, put-away runs grew extinct in the middle of the game. The bullpen, save for Heilman's clutch stanch in the eighth, was pretty useless. And Billy Wagner needs an appointment with Tom Emanski.

But so what? We beat the Yankees. We weren't at our best and we beat the Yankees. It got a bit melodramatic toward the end because Mets-Yankees games are almost uniformly melodramatic, but we beat the Yankees. And we didn't require an unlikely hero [12] as we have so often in the past. Glavine righted himself. Wright was right from the start. Endy endured. There is nothing unlikely about the baseball heroics the Mets produce in 2007. Winning is what we do. Why wouldn't we do it against the Yankees?

TV ratings and back pages and radio yak and sports anchor leads and caps on the street will take a little time. There's still that Chernobyl residue hanging over New York from 1996 to 2000, the contamination that infected those prone to front-running and bullying. Also, there's still the eerie fascination attached to observing a trainwreck. You don't watch what glides along smoothly with nearly the interest that you do a toxic chemical spill, which is precisely what the 2007 Yankees have become. We'll still have to hear about them for a bit, but we have better things with which to concern ourselves. We have games to try to win. One more against them Sunday night, then it's on to Atlanta for a series of far greater significance. It's fun to beat the Yankees. It's key to beat the Braves.

I wish this had come sooner. I wish this had happened when Valentine was managing and Piazza was slugging and Alfonzo and Leiter and Ventura and the rest of that cast was in full bloom. I never rationally understood, as we contended legitimately for the playoffs across five consecutive Septembers and played heartstopping postseason baseball over two straight Octobers, why we were treated as an afterthought in our city, as if we were a warmup act or a visiting team. I will forever smolder with resentment at the way those New York Mets were widely dismissed in the shadow of the Yankees. But that's history now, history as ancient as the last time the Yankees prevailed in a World Series, the last time they rated an ounce of aura or a scintilla of mystique. Right now, they're just a lousy team with a fat payroll.

Right now, we own New York.

And The Dugout [13] owns the well-deserved mention they seek.