That brings us to the poor Mets. And I say poor Mets because their lineup is top-notch except when compared with the Yankees’. Which is sort of their lot in life with everything when it comes to their crosstown rivals. While the Mets upped their TV ratings by 65 percent, to 2.8, this season, the Yankees still crushed them with a 4.2. Hell, the Yankees even got a slightly cheaper interest rate on their dueling new stadiums’ municipal bonds: Steinbrenner pays 4.51 percent, and the Wilpons hump 4.57 percent. The same silver medal goes to the Mets’ batting order. In the end, would you rather have Reyes, Beltran, Delgado, and Wright, or Damon, Jeter, A-Rod, and Giambi? On the bench, the Yankees can turn to young stud Cabrera or old vet Bernie Williams. The Mets have not-so-studly Endy Chavez and not-so-young Franco.
And yet. The strange and wonderful thing about baseball is its fickleness. Worship all you want at the altar of sabermetrics, the game can have a Job-like sense of injustice. Unlike the NFL and the NBA, where talent almost always triumphs, recent baseball history is dotted with scrappy teams outlasting All-Star Evil Empires. Does anyone really think the ’01 Diamondbacks and the ’03 Marlins were actually better than the Yankee teams they beat? In baseball, it becomes all about the mojo, the hot hand, and playing loose. That’s why a dunderhead like Boston’s Manny Ramirez never hits an A-Rod-type tailspin. He doesn’t think too much; he just lets the hands go.
So which of these two teams can let the hands go? As I worked my way through the Bronx and Queens, I asked players and coaches whether they were rooting for a Subway Series. The Yankees, to a man, wouldn’t even address it, repeating the mantra “It doesn’t matter. We just have to play our own game.” The Mets were different. Sure, they all offered disclaimers about late October being far away and not getting ahead of themselves, but in the end they couldn’t help it. “That would be awesome,” said David Wright, his eyes filled with visions of a city shut down for ten days. “We don’t care, but I know if it’s the Yankees, it will be crazy,” said Delgado. “They’re not the biggest team in the world by accident.” Even the skipper couldn’t help but dream. “It doesn’t really matter to me,” Randolph insisted as he watched from the Shea dugout as his squad played pepper at magic hour. Then he softened. “That would just be the ultimate. I’m a New Yorker. I played for the Yankees. It would be a dream come true.”
Then there were the different ways the two franchises celebrated winning their division. At Shea, David Wright posed for pictures with a stogie in his mouth while Jose Reyes salsa’d in the locker room with goggles on. A few days later and a country away in Toronto, the Yankees popped their own corks, but there was a cool “We’ve been here before” vibe to the celebrating. And so the Yankees enter October with the grizzled resolve of a swat team doing hostage extrication while the Mets are summer-school kids with a day pass at Six Flags wanting to soak in every roller coaster and every corn dog that time will allow.
That is called joy. And in baseball, joy brings championships.
The Mets in six.