Frank Sinatra famously sang about “New York, New York”. There haven’t been too many times that both of the city’s baseball teams have been a dominant force since the high-water mark of the Yankees-Mets World Series in 2000.
Their rivalry is probably most similar to the Man Utd-Man City football rivalry in the pre-Abu Dhabi Sheikh days for the Blues. The Yankees were the Utd of the baseball equivalent, racking up titles, becoming the team everyone else loved to hate and being more interested in their rivalry with another city (Boston Red Sox in the Yankees’ case, Liverpool for Utd) than with their “noisy neighbour”.
The Mets were more like the old Man City, fleeting moments of brilliance heavily outnumbered by heartbreak and occasional farce.
Man City have turned things around thanks to Middle East investment of staggering proportions, to the extent that their global plans have seen them link up with the Yankees as part of the New York City Football team.
In contrast, the Mets are lumbered with the Wilpon family who have cut the team’s budget in the last three years after losing substantial sums in the Madoff investment scandal. Mets fans have not been happy seeing their team settling for a mid-ranking payroll despite being in one of the biggest sports markets in the world with a new ballpark and running a lucrative TV network, with frustrations summed up by a billboard protest at the start of this season.
However, there are signs that the baseball tide is turning in New York. The Yankees have missed out on the play-offs in each of the past two seasons and have a team dominated by high-earning older players. The Mets meanwhile have some of the most exciting young talent in the Major Leagues, particularly on their pitching staff.
One big difference between the New York and Manchester sporting rivalries is that the baseball teams play in different leagues so don’t directly compete against each other in the standings. Until regular season ‘inter-league’ play began in 1997, the two teams didn’t meet at all unless both made it to the World Series, which has only happened that one time in 2000. Now they do at least play each other every season for a few games and recently that has been a case of the underdog Mets coming along and hoping to win some bragging rights as a small bit of joy to cling to in an otherwise disappointing season.
Yet the ‘Subway Series’ that began last night was different. The Mets came into the series with the best record in MLB and riding an 11-game winning streak. Much as they would try to deny it, the Yankee players would have been peeved to have seen so much attention being lavished on their opponents as they ‘welcomed’ them to Yankee Stadium for a three-game series.
It was almost to be expected that the Yankees would snap the Mets’ winning streak in the opener on Friday night and that’s exactly what they did with a 6-1 victory. Whilst it’s only early in the season, the Yankees would take great pleasure in knocking the Mets down a peg or two by going on and sweeping the series.
The game on Saturday should be an absolute cracker with the Mets’ young pitching star Matt Harvey taking to the mound at Yankee Stadium against CC Sabathia. It’s a day-game in the Bronx, making for a 21.05 BST start time, and it’s being shown live on the ESPN UK channel.
Unsurprisingly, the series finale has been chosen as the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game so that will be live on ESPN UK too, in this case a 1 a.m. start on Sunday night/Monday morning.
The U.S. ESPN channel often gets accused of east coast bias, but in this case you can’t blame them for focusing on New York. There’s genuine reason for excitement with these two teams colliding this season thanks to the rise of the Mets and that’s something all baseball fans should enjoy.