By Rich Coutinho
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The Mets and Yankees have battled it out since 1997 for New York City bragging rights, and have played six times per season for the most of those of 15 years.

Many feel six games is too much. They say it puts an unnecessary burden on the Mets that their divisional foes don’t have to endure.

I say that’s nonsense.

Fans love it and the Subway Series is still good for heavy drama. What could be better than the celebration of New York baseball each summer?

Going into this season, Mets fans weren’t really looking forward to these games. The $200 million-plus Yankees looked to be much better than the Amazin’s — but it hasn’t quite worked out that way. The Mets, behind the pitching tandem of Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey and an MVP-type season from David Wright, have given the fans hope. Terry’s Kids sit at six games over .500 coming into this series, and have been as resilient as any team in the majors, making them an easy team to like — and root for.

PALLADINO: Subway Series just isn’t for me

Meanwhile, the Yankees have plodded along with decent pitching and their trademark longball game. But unlike the Mets, the Yankees have had issues getting clutch hits, though they have located some of their offense in the past two weeks. The loss of Mariano Rivera would normally signal big trouble, but Rafael Soriano has performed at a high level with both the greatest closer in the sport and David Robertson on the disabled list.

Despite the disparity in payroll, these two teams are pretty evenly matched. Get ready for the buzz this weekend in the Bronx and later this season at Citi Field.  Coming off his historic no-hitter, Santana heightens the interest in the opener Friday night. And let’s be honest, he has really carried this Mets team (along with R.A. Dickey) during their climb upward in the standings. You talk to Mets fans and they’re suddenly a proud bunch, praising the team’s tenacity, which has produced a plethora of comeback wins in 2012.

From the Yankees fans’ perspective, they feel their team has turned the corner in recent weeks, and so this series will be a good barometer for them in a heightened, playoff-type atmosphere. And for the record, I believe both the Mets and Yankees will be in the playoff hunt through September, with the Bombers a certainty to make it. And yes, I think the Mets will have a better than 50-50 chance of securing an invite to the October party as well.

Don’t expect a war of words between these two teams. They have an intense respect for each other, especially Mets third basemen David Wright who said, “These games are great to play in because we get to measure ourselves up against a great team with all-time greats like Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriquez. But they are also important to us in our quest to rise in the standings. We’ll have a bunch of Mets fans in their building and the atmosphere will be great.”

Of course, the fans might not be as cordial as Wright. But I must say, I have attended every one of these games and both Yankees and Mets fans generally conduct themselves with class — even during the Mike Piazza-Roger Clemens theatrics. After all, Mets fans will be rooting for the Yankees when the Bombers play the Nats and Braves in interleague play, while Yankees fans will do the same when the Mets tangle with the Rays and Orioles.

At least I think they will.

But the bottom line is this series still has juice. As much as the media wants to throw cold water on it, the fans love it. And let’s remember that the fans are an important part of this game.

I suspect we’ll see a surprising hero emerge this weekend. Maybe it’ll be Andres Torres or perhaps Chris Stewart. Maybe this is the weekend Russell Martin gets it going, or dare say, Ike Davis.

I also think we’ll see a great confrontation at some point — maybe Santana vs. Jeter or Pettitte vs. Wright. These games are always good for a few of those showdowns.

Whether you are a Yankees or a Mets fan, enjoy the games. Savor them. They’re special, no matter what the naysayers might have you believe.

Do you agree with Coutinho, or is the Subway Series just not for you? Sound off in the comments below…

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