Since 1956: History of the Subway Series

On Friday at 7:10 in Flushing the resurgent Mets (note: playing .500 this week) and the resurgent Yankees (note: 1st place in the AL East) square off in a set of games that aside from meaning nearly nothing, mean a whole heckuvalot!

Since the actual history of the "Subway Series" goes back some 80 years to before anyone took the subway (since the Yankees and Giants shared the Polo Grounds at the time in 1921), let's just abbreviate the topic and look at its newest incarnation, the Mets and Yankees of the past 6 years since Interleague play began in 1997.

The first 3 years, and even the last two years were relatively uneventful, but 2000 made all the difference for fans. Prior to 2000, Mike Piazza was a good hitter. Roger Clemens was a Blue Jay, and Derek Jeter never got out at any point (don't look it up, it's true). But then an artificial rivalry concocted by Bud Selig's Interleague monster finally developed into something that fans of both teams could truly hate the other team for.

During the regular season in 2000, the Mets and Yankees split 2 games in the Bronx, each team pounding the other for 12 and 13 runs in their respective wins. The second volley of games saw the Yankees win 3 straight (including twin 4-2 wins in the first ever home-and-home double header). The Mets won the 6th and final regular season match-up, and the stage was set for each team's postseason runs.

The rivalry part comes in when you look closer at these six games. In the opener between aces Roger Clemens and Al Leiter, the Mets won 12-2 at Yankee Stadium. Mike Piazza started a long chain of events by hitting a 3rd inning grand slam off of Clemens and going 3 for 4 in the game off the anger-management-issue prone Clemens. Clemens wound up giving up 8 earned runs in 5 innings; he had yielded 20 runs in 12 2/3 innings in his Yankee career against the Mets. Piazza was hitting 7 for 12 with 3 HR against Clemens in their "Subway Series" match-ups. The Yankees got revenge, scoring 10 runs in the 5th, 6th and 7th off of Bobby Jones and half of the Mets' bullpen to win the second meeting.

The third game of 2000 saw few fireworks, as Orlando Hernandez and Al Leiter each pitched beautifully, but Paul O'Neil robbed Derek Bell of a game winning HR to seal it for the Yankees. Game 4 saw Dwight Gooden's return to Flushing, and he looked like the old Dr. K, giving up only 2 runs as the Yankees won again. A few hours, a few subway tokens later, Clemens finally beat the Mets as Glendon Rusch threw a complete game in a loss in the Bronx. Clemens beaned Mike Piazza in the head, knocking him out of the game in the second inning, and sparked the rivalry to an all out blaze. Mike Hampton and Armando Benitez combined to shutout the Yankees with Todd Pratt behind the plate in the final game of the season.

The Yankees went on to win the AL East by 2.5 games over the Red Sox. They came back the beat the Oakland A's in 5 games and beat the Mariners in 6 to make the World Series. The Mets won the Wild Card and beat the San Francisco Giants in 4 and the St. Louis Cardinals (who had knocked off the NL East champion Braves) in 5 games to return to their first World Series since 1986 when they beat the Clemens-led Red Sox. New York would host the World Series within the city for the first time since 1956.

The Yankees won game 1 when Armando Benitez blew the save in the 9th because he never saw a fastball sign he didn't like. The deflated Mets returned after that 12th inning defeat to lose another 1 run game, this time to a nearly perfect Roger Clemens. Clemens and Piazza were involved in one of the strangest and most talked about, argued and fought over plays in the history baseball in the 1st inning. Piazza fouled off Clemens' 1-2 offering and the broken barrel of his bat tumbled into the infield towards Clemens. The pitcher, who earlier in the playoffs had been called a head-hunter by Mariner's skipper Lou Pinella after Clemens beaned Alex Rodriguez, caught the bat and fired it towards Piazza, later claiming he was trying to give it to the bat boy.

The Mets got two hits off of Clemens through eight but unloaded on Jeff Nelson and Mariano Rivera in the 9th, but came up 1 run short, and found themselves in an 0 games to 2 hole. Rick Reid threw six solid innings as current Yankees Todd Zeile and Robin Ventura won game 3 for the Mets. The loss was the first in 15 World Series games for the Yankees. Derek Jeter's lead-off homer in game 4 killed the Met-momentum before the game even started and the Yankees won game 4. The Yankees sealed the 2000 Subway Series when Luis Sojo broke Met fans' hearts with a two-out single in the 9th to beat Al Leiter.

2001 and 2002 saw few fireworks, as both teams tried to put the Clemens-Piazza controversy behind them. Roger Clemens missed a start at Shea in 2001 when Met fans craved retribution, and he did not even pitch against the Mets that season. Yankee manager Joe Torre dismissed charges that the Yankees were scared to bat Clemens against the Mets. In 2002, he got his at bats and Shawn Estes missed him, thus sealing a chapter in history. The Yankees won four of the six meetings in 2001 and the teams split six in 2002, leading us up to today.

The Mets will likely pitch Steve Trachsel, Tom Glavine and Jae Seo to face the Yankees' likely starters Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, and David Wells. Mike Piazza is out, Roger Clemens won't pitch and only two 2000 World Series starters will (Pettitte and Mussina). The Yankees have the edge in games won, and they won the Series in 2000, but the players and coaches will tell you that none of that matters as the two teams square off this weekend. The Mets are sitting steady about 13 games back in the east, and Armando Benitez and Timo Perez may be the only 2000 Met mainstays who will take the field this weekend.

The Yankees have packed away their rings and bought a whole new contender, and Clemens has exorcised his demons lately and is even apparently a media friendly good-guy again, but for the fans these games mean everything. So while the ghosts of 3 years ago may ostensibly be simply silent hauntings in the dugouts, they won't be silent in my house and they won't be silent in bars and talk radio all over New York before, during and after these historically irrelevant, but season-defining games.

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