By Ernie Palladino
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The powers in Major League Baseball’s front office made it impossible to regard interleague play anymore as a curious, manufactured blip on the schedule. The move of the Astros to the AL West to form two 15-team leagues assured a daily interleague game somewhere.
They not only succeeded in making their marketing experiment of 1997 permanent, but necessary. For that, they should earn your everlasting scorn. Just wait until your favorite American League team has to run off to a National League city in September, a game or two off that second wild card spot, and can’t use the DH.
There is one benefit to all this, however. It has mercifully turned our so-called Subway Series into just another home-and-home set, no more or less important than, say, the Yanks’ trip to Colorado earlier this month or the Mets’ two home games with the White Sox in June. Compared to other years, the local media has done an admirable job of talking about this four-game set analytically, with a minimum of the hype overkill that accompanied other Subway Series run-ups.
Perhaps its because the Mets are so bad and the Yanks are so beat up that Monday’s opener drew the smallest paid crowd ever to witness this regular-season matchup, a mere 32,911 on a pleasant holiday evening. Those witnesses came away from a suitably entertaining, 2-1 Mets win marked, not so ironically, by a Daniel Murphy drive that just didn’t have umph to get over Brett Gardner’s glove at the wall in left-center.
As good as Gardner’s play was, it will never go down with Mark Teixeira’s winning dash from first on Luis Castillo’s dropped, game-ending popup at Yankee Stadium in 2009. That one set a historic standard for all-time boneheadedness on Castillo’s part, regardless of opponent.
And we must all know that, even though interest rose for Tuesday’s game, it did so because Matt Harvey was on the hill. It’s been said before and it will be repeated throughout the season, Harvey remains the only reason to spend money on a Mets ticket this year. And we’ve come to expect bonuses like Tuesday night, when Harvey and Hiroki Kuroda treated the soggy Citi Field fans to a pitching gem.
The fact that Bobby Parnell called his first save against the Yanks Monday night “a milestone,” and the fact that lifelong Yankees fan Harvey had eagerly awaited his start did little to turn the embers of this artificial rivalry into a firestorm. The real rivalry — Yankees-Red Sox — comes Friday to Yankee Stadium. And the Mets get back to division play the same day at the Marlins, followed by three games in Washington.
League games were always vastly more important than this interleague stuff. The purists never wanted to see the leagues meet outside of the World Series. That was part of the allure — two teams who had never seen each other playing for the ultimate championship. But those things are in the past now. Everything is melded together, and baseball isn’t going back to its old, better ways.
So maybe it is sufficient that the so-called Subway Series has moved one step toward the commonplace. It’s happening all over. The Cardinals and Royals, supposed interstate rivals, drew less than 35,000 to Kaufman Stadium Monday. The Giants and A’s, the Subway Series of the Bay Area, drew an unimpressive 36,000. Cubs-White Sox? Thirty thousand and change.
It was always silly to attach an increased significance to Yanks-Mets. Joe Torre hated the idea. Joe Girardi isn’t thrilled with it. And really, we all know the only true Subway Series occurred when the Yanks faced either the Mets, New York Giants, or Brooklyn Dodgers for all the marbles.
The other stuff? Just pretend.
This year proves that whatever luster New York’s regular-season rivalry had in the past is gone. Better the Mets should fill up Citi Field for the Braves and Phillies, the Yanks for the Red Sox. That’s the natural way of things.
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