It’s Not Too Early to Get Excited About a Subway Series

Photo: Frank Franklin II/AP/Shutterstock/Frank Franklin II/AP/Shutterstoc

I had just moved to New York when the last World Series between the Mets and Yankees took place, in 2000. Though I hadn’t lived in the city long, its baseball pecking order was clear enough to anyone. The series pitted the then-dominant Yankees (who had won three of the previous four World Series) against the plucky Mets (who trailed the Yankees in total World Series titles by … 23). The series, which the Yankees won 4-1, reflected that dynamic; it felt like a big brother allowing his tinier sibling a few meek swings at him before felling him with one straight jab. The only thing anyone really remembers from it is Roger Clemens losing his mind and throwing a splintered, broken bat at Mike Piazza. It was a lunatic moment made even more surreal by the fact that Clemens both avoided an ejection and ended up tossing eight shutout innings, earning the win.

(Seriously, I still can’t believe this happened.)

Since then, the two teams haven’t really come close to meeting again in the World Series. (The Yankees have had an unusually mediocre 22 years by their standards, making it back only three times and winning just once, in 2009; the generally hapless Mets lost to the Royals in 2015.) But the prospect of a rematch has never looked more likely than it does right now. And if it happens, I suspect it will be a much bigger deal than last time around.

The Yankees are off to one of the best starts in their unparalleled history, on pace to tie baseball’s all-time-wins record with 118. They’re pulling off the particularly impressive feat of both scoring the most and allowing the fewest runs in baseball. They lead the (usually) highly competitive American League East by 12.5 games and, according to Fangraphs, have a 94.5 percent chance at a first-round playoff bye — a new postseason feature as of this year. And they’re among the most likable Yankees teams in recent memory with superstars such as Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton residing comfortably alongside unlikely success stories Nestor Cortes and Clay Holmes. They’re a hard Yankees team to hate.

But you could still argue that they trail their crosstown counterparts in the all-important “vibes” category. From the beginning of the season, the Mets have felt a little touched by magic, as if a team inured to horrible decision-making and freakish bad luck had suddenly undergone a complete karma reversal. (In case you’ve forgotten how bad it got, here’s a glorious bracket of Mets misery.) Heading into the season, the Mets had two of the best pitchers in baseball, Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer, but the rest of the team wasn’t thought to be world-beaters. So when deGrom hit the injured list just before the season began and Scherzer landed there a month later, you might have thought the Mets were toast. Yet despite receiving only 49⅔ innings from the duo this year (all from Scherzer), the team is leading the National League East and has a 97 percent chance of making the playoffs, and a more than 50 percent chance of gaining a bye. Even more surprising, they’re having the time of their lives doing it. The Mets are downright packed with folk heroes from Jeff McNeil to Luis Guillorme to Nick Plummer (who has been mostly terrible but hit two massive home runs in his first two games). They’re also doing something Mets players almost never do: getting star performances from their expensive superstars, including Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor, and Edwin Díaz, the latter two having mostly been written off by Mets fans after slow starts upon arriving in Queens. With manager Buck Showalter as a steady steward and owner Steve Cohen finally doing what Mets fans were hoping he’d do (spend a bunch of money and chill the hell out on Twitter a bit), the Mets look like they are run by — gasp — grown-ups. They’re a real baseball team. And with deGrom and Scherzer both returning soon, it may only get better from here.

So do we dare to dream of another Subway Series? The odds are against it, inherently. The addition this year of extra wild-card spots and a whole new playoff round have added additional hoops for teams to jump through in the postseason. And there is less correlation between regular-season dominance and playoff success in baseball than in other sports. Last year, the Braves had the fewest wins of any postseason team and ended up winning the World Series anyway. The Yankees are the best team in baseball, but 100-plus wins guarantees you nothing, and the Mets are a long way from actually holding on to that bye. (You can forgive any Mets fan for being terrified of yet another collapse down the stretch.) Making the World Series is hard. Expecting these teams to do it at the same time is pushing it.

But wow: Wouldn’t it be fun? I think it’d be more of a blast than 22 years ago. It’s true that the Yankees play in a worse stadium than they did back then — the new(ish) place is cavernous and standoffish — but the Mets sure don’t. As much as any stadium in baseball, Citi Field takes on a downright raucous, almost hockey-esque vibe during big moments: The park is both loud and strikingly intimate, an incredible combination for postseason baseball; the idea of deGrom facing Judge on a freezing October night there is downright electrifying. The dynamic between the two teams has changed dramatically since 2000 too. Then the Yankees were the ruling (and, to many, evil) empire, while the Mets were the upstart that seemed a little bit dazed to even be there. Now? Both teams are desperate. The Yankees just ended their first decade without a World Series appearance since the 1910s; the Mets own one of the ten longest World Series title droughts in baseball. (Only two players on the team, Scherzer and Adam Ottavino, were even alive the last time the Mets won a championship.) The teams would be evenly matched, especially if deGrom and Scherzer return. And the Series would serve as a referendum on which fan base lays claim to the baseball future in New York. (Remember, the ’80s belonged to the Mets, not the Yankees.) Major League Baseball is still grasping for an event that captures the national imagination, and this one would be unmissable — in New York and nationwide.

Wouldn’t it be amazing? The only thing I can think of that would be worse about this Subway Series than 2000’s? The state of the subways themselves.

It’s Not Too Early to Get Excited About a Subway Series