In a world where the ongoing Red Sox–Yankees “saga” is rudely interrupted by the Tampa Bay Rays, it is no wonder that the artificial construction of a Mets-Phillies rivalry has been so labored and dogged. Simplicity requires a fake hatred between two contending East Coast teams, battling it out for division titles over multiple seasons, and because the Rays are ruining the party over in the American League, we’ll have to settle for these National League flailers.
The Phillies and the Mets are tied for first in the NL East — with the Marlins just one game behind, but who counts the Marlins? — and begin a three-game set at Shea tonight. It’s just the type of series that is perpetually overplayed — there are 62 games left, and the teams play five more against each other after this series ends — riling everybody up, reminding us that it’s gonna start getting cold soon and this endless stretch of baseball games is eventually going to matter.
The Phillies and Mets, of course, have some history, but it’s not real history, in the way the eighties Mets and Cardinals hated each other, or even the increasingly mild Red Sox and Yankees (somewhat) cheer against each other. Rather than two teams trading blows for baseball’s most cherished prize, the Mets and Phillies tend to stumble ungallantly across the finish line, the winner crowned mostly because of the collapse of the other. Last year was the most vivid example; the Mets’ implosion down the stretch opened the door for the Phillies, who celebrated by being promptly swept out of the playoffs.
But Shea will still fire itself up tonight, pretending it’s another last pennant battle at Robert Moses’s old yards, pretty free agent signee Johan Santana facing off against tubby Phillies trade target Joe Blanton. It’s not a real rivalry — if these teams played in Milwaukee and St. Louis, no one would care — but for now, it’ll have to do. The most fitting result of this matchup would probably be rain. —Will Leitch