By Jason Keidel
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Native New Yorkers take great pride not only in our culture, diversity and media dominance, but also the history of our sports clubs.
Yet we wish we could take a big, historical eraser to 2017, which saw no championships between our nine pro sports teams, and only the Yankees represented the Big Apple with pride and production before falling nine innings short of a World Series appearance.
Consider what’s happened since. The Jets and Giants labored to a combined 8-24 record despite predictions that the Giants would actually contend for a Super Bowl. Forget the NBA, if you can, where our two eyesore squads — the Knicks and Nets — have lost a combined nine straight games and are firmly anchored at the bottom of the Atlantic Division. New York City, long the ancestral home of the hardwood, has become a basketball graveyard.
And while our area could send a couple of teams to the NHL playoffs, this isn’t shaping up like a year when we’ll see the Stanley Cup making the rounds around here.
Despite the dominance of pro football over the American map, long ago usurping baseball as our nation’s favorite sport, the Big Apple is still a baseball town. Nothing gets the media or masses moving, more butts in seats or more Twitter trolls pounding their keyboards like our pastime.
So in light of our collective, woeful performance around the realm of pro sports, we need an infusion of good news, good games and a pennant race. Or two. After all, it has been a long seven years since the last local team, the Giants, brought a trophy home.
As usual, that’s not a problem in the Bronx, where the Bombers are stacked. They may have snuck up on the sport last summer, but the Yankees will surprise no one this spring. And their nuclear lineup just got an atom bomb in Giancarlo Stanton, who came painfully close to 60 homers last year in that baseball cemetery in Miami, where there seemed to be more fannies in the dugouts than in the stands. Maybe new Marlins czar Derek Jeter will remold them in his image in a few years, but this year his old club, the Yankees, are the talk and chalk of the North.
The Yanks finished the 2017 season at 91-71, enough for a wild-card spot and a quick, clever ascent back into their old, regal form. Surely, they have the talent and temerity to win three more games, which would have been enough to best the Boston Red Sox last year. According to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, only four clubs (the Dodgers, Indians, Astros and Nationals) have better odds to win the World Series than the Yankees, who are currently 8-to-1 to win their 28th Fall Classic.
And what of the stepchild? The third cousin, twice-removed, across the Harlem River? The team in Flushing isn’t as flush as the Yankees, but the Mets have been quietly wise, if not aggressive, this winter. They plucked two solid logs from the hot stove by signing Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier to modest contracts — especially Frazier, whom many say the Mets got at nearly half-price.
Noah Syndergaard is waving his long locks all over TV, in commercials and MLB promos, his lat muscle now at full strength, giving Thor the health and hardihood to hurl his typical 100-mph hammer. Jacob deGrom would be an ace on almost any other club. And just by default you expect Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler to be better than last year, when both were awful. And if Matt Harvey, who has run the gamut of celebrity strata, from Dark Knight to a joker to now a big variable, can be a reasonable facsimile of his former comic book eminence, the Mets will have a glittering rotation.
In fact, the Vegas odds sharks have so much respect for the Mets’ offseason and pitching potential, they are in a logjam, tied for eighth in terms of the odds to win the World Series, one of three clubs (along with Diamondbacks and Cardinals) slated at 20-to-1 to win the last game of the season. Pretty impressive for a club that won just 70 games last year and finished 27 games behind the Nationals.
We need it. And it feels like we can depend on the Yanks to give us a deep summer run that should leak into autumn. Unless new manager Aaron Boone is a complete flop, their talent alone should get them 90 wins, and likely 95. (Provided there are no catastrophic injuries, of course.)
The Mets have way more variables, less stability and also hired a new manager, Mickey Callaway. Unlike the Yanks, who inexplicably jettisoned a fine manager who did a fantastic job last year, the Mets had to jam the eject button on Terry Collins, who wasn’t a bad man or manager but simply peaked in 2015, when he led the Mets to the World Series. He and the team simply didn’t get over that ninth inning from Matt Harvey in Game 5.
But now the Mets have jammed the reboot button, and it’s not looking bad. We need it. We need at least one pennant run, and two would make us whole. We love baseball for so many obvious reasons — our oldest game, passed like a baton down the generations, played during the best months of the year, the only pro sport where we can enjoy athletic and climatic brilliance, get a grand slam and suntan at the same time.
Now we need our pastime more than ever. Not just to entertain us. But to save us.
Please follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel