Two Teams, One City, Tons Of Energy

Despite having played each other during the regular season for just six seasons, an intense rivalry already exists between the New York Yankees and New York Mets. Way back in 1997 when Interleague play began, the Subway Series was billed as the biggest thing in New York sports. Little did anyone know just how huge the rivalry would become, spilling over into controversy and the sport's biggest stage.

Most may not remember it, I didn't, but the Yankees and Mets used to play each other each year in an exhibition event known as the Mayor's Trophy, and the two teams have played each other many times in Spring Training. So by the time Interleague play started, a precedent for the two teams to face each other had already existed.

But never before had the games ever counted for anything other than bragging rights. In 1997, both bragging rights and real wins and losses were up for grabs as the two teams met in a meaningful atmosphere.

On the evening of June 16, it all came to a head in Yankee Stadium. The Mets, still in their pre-Piazza era, weren't a terribly good team back in 1997. They finished the season 88-74, good for third place in the NL East, while the Yankees took the AL Wild Card that year with a 96-66 record.

But standings meant nothing for this series; it was transcendent of the regular season in some ways. This was something that New York baseball fans had been waiting for since the Giants and Dodgers left town, a meeting between two New York teams. Mets fans are rabid and crazy, just like Yankee fans. They'll defend their team to the death no matter how they perform on the field. It's really a sight to see.

So in front of 56,188 fans on June 16, Dave Mlicki threw a complete-game shutout against the Yankees to take the first game of the Subway Series. When I went back and found that boxscore, I thought to myself "Dave Mlicki? How random." But there it was, "Mlicki, 9IP, 0R". The Mets beat the Yankees in the first regular season meeting between the two teams.

But the Yankees battled back, as David Wells picked up a victory in the second game of the three-game series by a final score of 6-3. Then, in the rubber match of the series, David Cone, who started his career with the Mets before finding his way to the Bronx, pitched eight innings of two-run baseball while striking out 11 batters. But Rick Reed pitched just as well and the game headed into extra innings.

In the bottom of the tenth inning, John Franco – the Mets captain and a New Yorker himself – came in to face Tino Martinez with Paul O'Neill on base. Martinez connected on a base hit, scoring O'Neill, ending the game, and giving the Yankees the series victory.

The next year, there was some more drama going on between the two teams. In the seventh inning of the first game with the Yanks down a run, Mets manager Bobby Valentine pulls Al Leiter out of the game for Mel Rojas. The very first pitch that Rojas threw to Paul O'Neill was promptly hit over the left-centerfield wall for a three-run homerun. The Yankees didn't look back and took that game 8-4.

The teams split the next two games to give the Yankees another victory in the series. The final game featured a matchup between two foreign imports. Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez – a defector from Cuba - pitched eight innings of two-hit ball for the Yankees, while Masato Yoshii – a free agent from Japan – pitched seven innings of two-hit ball for the Mets. Neither pitcher figured in the decision, as Ramiro Mendoza gave up a game-winning sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth to Luis Lopez.

If dramatic homeruns and dominating pitching performances aren't your cup of tea, the Subway Series really began to heat up in 1999. In the offseason before the '99 season, the Yankees sent David Wells to Toronto for five-time Cy Young award-winner Roger Clemens.

Little did the Yankees know that they were also setting the stage for the biggest controversy in the sport for the next three years.

After the Yankees took the first two games of the first series in 1999 – there were to be two series that season -, Clemens took the mound for the final game, looking to sweep. But the Rocket crashed and burned, allowing seven runs and eight hits in just 2 2/3 innings. Not the least of those hits were Mike Piazza's double and two-run blast. The Mets prevented the sweep by handling the Yanks 7-2.

Clemens got his rematch just over a month later, but he ran into a familiar foe. Piazza took Clemens deep again for another three-run shot that untied the game and gave the Mets the 5-2 victory.

The Yankees tried to bounce back in the second game, as Jorge Posada and Paul O'Neill both homered twice, but Mariano Rivera blew a save and gave the Mets the victory, ensuring their first series victory over the Bronx Bombers.

The Yankees picked up their second consecutive World Series championship at the end of the 1999 season, much to the chagrin of the Mets. The Mets made it all the way to the NLCS that season, only to watch Kenny Rogers walk home the winning run and let the Atlanta Braves reach the World Series. New Yorkers got a teaser for a World Subway Series, but they would have to wait just a little while longer.

In 2000, the tension between the two teams exploded in full force. Clemens started the first regular season matchup between the two teams and was hammered again, by the same man. Mike Piazza launched a grand slam off of Clemens in the third inning of the game, keying a 12-2 Met victory and sending Clemens to his third straight Subway Series loss.

Then it happened. In the second game of a strange, two-stadium doubleheader, the Rocket sent a fastball high and tight and sailing into Mike Piazza's helmet, leaving the Met superstar with a concussion and sidelining him for several games. To this day, Clemens claims it wasn't on purpose, while Piazza thinks it was. Intentional or not, there's plenty of evidence to show that Clemens wasn't happy with the way Piazza and his bat had been treating him.

Clemens picked up his first victory over the Mets in that game, as the Yankees put up a 4-2 win over their shocked opponents.

But fate has a funny way of making things work. For the third straight year, the Yankees made the World Series. And the Mets dispatched the St. Louis Cardinals to give baseball fans everywhere – but particularly New York – a real, true Subway Series: one that would crown a champion.

The first game of the series was one of the longest in history, lasting 12 innings and nearly five hours. The Yankees came out on top after the marathon on Jose Vizcaino's game-winning single in the bottom of the twelfth. But game two was what was on everyone's mind. Because Roger Clemens was starting it.

The Rocket didn't waste anytime getting everyone's attention. After Timo Perez and Edgardo Alfonzo struck out to start the first inning, Piazza stepped into the batter's box to face Clemens for the first time since being beaned.

Piazza hit a broken-bat nubber down the first base line, but the barrel of the bat somehow ended up hurtling toward Clemens. Clemens picked up the piece of the bat, and threw it toward Piazza. Both benches cleared, but nothing came of it and the game continued.

Clemens cruised through the rest of the game, pitching eight scoreless, two-hit innings and fanning nine Mets. The Mets made it interesting in the ninth, scoring five runs to pull to within one of the Yankees, including a three-run shot from Piazza. But the Yanks held on to take a 2-0 lead in the series.

The Mets won game three, but dropped the last two to give the Yankees the series and their third straight championship. All five games were decided by two runs or less in a thrilling series for any New Yorker.

Since the World Subway Series, the tension has died down some. The two teams have played three series since, and the Yankees have taken three of them. Clemens managed to avoid the Mets during the 2001 season, which stayed free of any Clemens/Piazza-related controversy.

2001 did feature a great pair of pitcher's duels between the latest Yankee signee, Mike Mussina, and the Mets' Kevin Appier. On June 16, both pitchers went deep into the game, allowing just one earned run each. But Appier also allowed an unearned run, giving the Yanks the victory.

The two pitchers met up again at Yankee Stadium on July 7, with extremely similar results. Appier pitched eight shutout innings, striking out eight Yankees, and Mussina pitched seven shutout innings while fanning 10 Mets. With the game still scoreless after nine, extra innings needed to be played. Piazza struck again with an RBI single in the tenth to kick off a three-run rally against Mariano Rivera. The Mets took that game, 3-0.

Clemens couldn't avoid Flushing's finest forever though, and the fans and media finally got the rematch they had been waiting for for almost two years after the bat-throwing incident in the World Series. The June 15, 2002 game went off without a big commotion, though Met starter Sean Estes threw a pitch behind Clemens when the Rocket had to bat. Later in the game, Estes took Clemens deep and Piazza launched another homerun off of him as the Mets cruised to an 8-0 victory.

Two weeks later, the Yankees and Mets faced each other for the last time before this weekend, and the series ended exactly how the first one started off. From Dave Mlicki way back in 1997 to Andy Pettitte in 2002, a complete game shutout. Pettitte allowed just three hits while striking out eight to help the Yankees to an 8-0 victory.

Since the beginnings of Interleague play in 1997, the Yankees and Mets have faced each other 30 times in the regular season and in one epic World Series. Each game has been special, each game has been magical and each game has been important. Though the Yankees own an 18-12 record against their cross-town rivals, the series have all been close. Neither team has managed to sweep the other, and the Yankees have only scored seven more runs. But that being said, the Yankees have something the Mets don't. 2000 World Series Championship rings.

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