By Jason Keidel
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New York baseball has been predictably linear this year.
The Yankees are running nearly wire-to-wire to the American League East crown. All of us had the Mets at around 70 wins, and they will somehow reach that low watermark despite their stunning spurt of lovely baseball for the first half of the season. Their current free fall has them landing Splat! on the bottom floor of the National League East, sandwiched between Jimmy Rollins and Jose Reyes.
But even if neither New York team reaches its goals, their fans can rejoice in the fates of their foes: archrivals Boston and Philadelphia, who are a combined 30 games out of first place.
The Mets have bumped into the Phillies in the darkness of the NL cellar. Looking back, the Phillies really blew a chance at a dynasty. After defeating Tampa in the 2008 World Series, they had the world by the horns. They were neck-deep in pitching and hitting and had a new ballpark that was stuffed like the D Train at rush hour every night. Then they spent over $200 million on Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. Then they vanished.
Chris Carpenter closed the coffin on the Philly run when he outdueled Lee in Game 5 of last year’s National League Division Series. It turns out that Philadelphia’s dominance wielded just one World Series ring, despite being the best team in baseball for four years.
Boston’s demise was more blatant, public and putrid. The team tanked on Terry Francona, whose laconic, player-friendly persona will be remembered for at least 86 years, the very bottleneck of the Bambino’s curse. Fried chicken, beer and Xbox were the soundtrack of a new September Song at Fenway Park. Francona was dumped like a rookie manager straight out of Pawtucket. He deserved much better, and the Red Sox have paid an epic, karmic tax ever since.
Then they brought in Bobby Valentine, like Lee Ermey replacing Dr. Phil.
It was almost universally understood that Boston’s wretched results this year would double as a death knell for Bobby V. –- until it wasn’t. Boston pulled off a titanic payroll purge: the biggest and most violent salary and attitudinal dump in baseball history. It seems that you can indeed fire those who engaged in the mass mutiny last September.
It’s still unclear if the mega-trade with the Dodgers doubles as a de facto endorsement of Valentine, but it sure can’t hurt his chances of returning next year. And while the move was bold and brilliant for Boston –- not Los Angeles, who just took on a quarter-billion in salaries and equally colossal egos — the Red Sox have clearly hit the reset button, waving a white flag for a few years. This is lovely news for Yankees fans, who still haven’t completely forgotten 2004, and perhaps never will.
For the Mets, the joy in Mudville is more ephemeral. Sure, it’s great to watch the Phillie Phanatic’s somber dance on the dugout. Their lineup is old, their pitching is pricey and there’s no guarantee that Ryan Howard will ever be his dominant self again. But it would be nice if the Mets actually leapfrogged them in the standings rather than call them peers in the pall of last place.
And while the Atlanta Braves were the eternal tormentors of all things Shea Stadium, the hatred felt for Philadelphia — from the Eagles to the Phillies — was always more visceral. The Braves — despite Jane & Ted’s nauseating, politically-correct tomahawk chop — generally won with class, from Chipper Jones to Greg Maddux to Bobby Cox. But there is no such respect or love for the City of Brotherly Love. Maybe, like those of us who would root for Castro’s Cuba over the Red Sox, we see some of ourselves in those cities and can’t come to admit it.
It’s not always a New Yorker’s style to revel in the wretched play of their opponents. We often share a Brooklyn native’s approach to sports. Al Davis’s immortal battle cry, “Just win, baby!” has been the hallmark of the Yankees since Babe Ruth took his talents to Broadway.
The Mets, sadly, have lain in the domain of consolation prizes. Sandy Alderson was supposed to change that. The results haven’t been so promising. But at least they have company, from a team 100 miles south from us and from first place.
Finally, something that Mets and Yankees fans can all enjoy together. Share your thoughts and comments below…