Five games into the second year of the long-dormant Mets-Phillies rivalry, I think we can identify what one of these babies feels like.
Torture. Total torture. Put away the waterboarding. Bring on Jayson Werth. That'll make 'em scream.
Here's a Mets-Phillies game in digest form:
The Mets get a lead. The Mets fans get confident. The Phillies lurk. The Phillies creep. The Phillies make it close. The Phillies get a call. The Phillies stir memories of bad endings. The Phillies fans make too much noise.
Sometimes the Mets and the Mets fans get the last laugh. But there's always another game. And there's almost always more torture.
The Mets and Phillies have only been playing for universally acknowledged high stakes since the middle of 2007, though it seems to me the games have always been like yesterday's. They were like this in '06, we just won more often was all. They were like this in '05, there just wasn't as much on the table. There have always been Phillies batters who kept far too many at-bats going past their expiration date, always been Mets relievers wearing a path from bullpen mound to actual mound, always the sense of potential doom lingering over the entire exercise.
This isn't the Mets-Braves rivalry, which works generally as punishment in one park, a touch of lunacy in the other. This is different. This is failing to properly grip the remote because of the sweat that has formed on your channel-changing palm. Not that you want to change the channel from the sixth inning on — sometimes it's just a self-defense mechanism.
Somebody there's slumping. Somebody there's injured. Yet nobody here's ever off the hook. There's always some Phillie that experience wouldn't necessarily dictate your worrying about, unless your experience is that of a Mets fan: Werth, Dobbs, Coste, Taguchi, Victorino. Fans elsewhere would think “good thing those guys aren't Rollins or Utley or Howard.” I don't think we think quite that way…not that we take those more famous guys lightly either.
To say nothing of Pat Burrell.
It's not that we don't or can't beat the Phillies. We've won the last four from them. It took historic hoodoo to finish second to their first. But doesn't it take everything we've got to subdue them every time? And doesn't that take a toll on us eventually? Consider the past three wins over the Phillies:
April 10: Maine goes 6, gives up 1; followed by 6 relievers; Mets win 4-3 in 12
April 18: Santana goes 7+, gives up 3 (K's 10); followed by 3 relievers, Mets win 6-4
April 19: Perez goes 5-2/3, gives up 0; followed by 6 relievers; Mets win 4-2
These were all good, sometimes dominant outings by the Mets starters, yet there was nothing easy about them, nothing certain, nothing that would allow you to breathe long enough to leave in Smith when you can bring in Feliciano, leave in Feliciano when you can bring in Heilman, leave in Heilman…no, it's pretty much down to Aaron at this juncture, let's hope he doesn't have to throw the ball to first. It took almost emptying the bullpen twice in the last three wins against the Phillies, and even when we had our ace going and our ace had his great stuff, it still took three relievers to accumulate six Philadelphia outs.
It was like this last year, too, except for the winning when the going got tough. It's like this as a rule when we face them. Beating them is by no means impossible, but it's rarely easy. Granted, you can't not expect close games against anybody in this league — and managers are prone to overusing their bullpens from one end of baseball to the other — but against nobody else does it feel we're one sagging beam from the roof falling in.
Only solace is playing the Mets seems as daunting a task for the Phillies as playing the Phillies is for the Mets.