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interleague play

Interleague Play Is Here Already

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 14:  Joey Votto #19 of the Cincinnati Reds steps up to the plate in the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on May 14, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Votto!

It feels like this Major League Baseball season is still stretching its arms and yawning — it feels like it's not quite awake yet. Even though we've already had a perfect game and a four-homer game, the 2012 season seems unsettled. There are too many presumably bad teams playing great (Baltimore, Cleveland, Washington) and presumably great teams playing badly (Anaheim, Boston, Detroit). Your hitting leaders include Carlos Ruiz and Bryan LaHair; your pitching leaders include Lance Lynn and Derek Lowe. It just feels too early. And yet: Interleague play is here already.

It's not actually here any earlier than last year; it began on May 20 last year — with R.A. Dickey flummoxing the Yankees, actually — and next year, it will start even earlier: It'll start on Opening Day and will last all year, at last normalizing the interleague process, for better or worse. This is the last year interleague play will be a "thing"; next year and from then on, it'll just be part of the daily ritual, no different than the Nuggets playing the 76ers or the Rams playing the Bills.

So, let's appreciate this last year when the start of interleague play really matters, when it's something different, something noteworthy. Because this is it, this is the end of it.

Locally, the Yankees host the Cincinnati Reds this weekend. The Yankees have a strange interleague schedule this year: They play Cincinnati three times, the Nationals three times, the Mets six times, and the Braves six times, for some reason. This'll be Yankees fans first chance to see Joey Votto, the NL MVP and hero of Canadian baseball fans everywhere, in person (the Yanks did play in Cincinnati last year). As a Cardinals fan who lives in New York, we find it frustrating, by the way, that the Reds, a Cardinals division rival, have played the Yankees twice in two years; the Cardinals have played the Yankees just once in New York since interleague began. (The Yankees swept a series from the Cards in 2003, a series most notable for Roger Clemens' 300th win and 4,000th strikeouts coming in the same game.)

The Mets get to head to Canada tonight to play the Toronto Blue Jays, fresh off a two-game series sweep over the Yankees. It's the Mets' first trip to Canada since the Expos were around (edit: Nope, they played in the Blue Jays in 2006. Sorry.); this stadium is nicer than that one, though perhaps not by much.

The National League is hoping to avoid yet another loss to the American League in the interleague standings; they haven't beaten the junior circuit since 2003. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Yankees have the best interleague mark; they're 157-107 since it began. The Yankees have several individual leaders, actually, in interleague play. The all-time hits leaders are Derek Jeter with 326 and Alex Rodriguez with 293; A-Rod leads in RBIs with 186 and Freddy Garcia, of all people, has the second-most wins with 23 and is second in ERA at 2.83.

But yes: interleague play! The last time you'll ever notice it.

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Photo: Kevin C. Cox/2012 Getty Images