Mets: Like the Cardinals
The Yankees are the hottest team in baseball, having won nine straight games. The Mets are the coldest team in baseball, having lost nine of their last ten.
Because of the hot/cold issue, and the fact that the Yankees just swept the Arizona Diamondbacks — a team to which the Mets recently lost two of three, it would appear that the Mets are in for a long weekend in the Bronx.
Not so fast.
A few weeks ago, these two teams were diametrically opposite — the Yanks were ice-cold and the Mets red-hot. At the time, all the buzz and electricity around the “subway series” was dismissed by Mets manager Willie Randolph and his players. It was “just another series, but fun for the fans”. Perhaps it was, and perhaps the players believed their own poppycock. This time around, however, it’s not “just another series.”
Every time these two teams get together, the atmosphere is similar to a playoff or World Series game. The players can try to downplay all they want, but they can’t deny the massive increase in reporters, microphones, TV cameras, media questions, and rabid fans. They can’t ignore the stadium filled to capacity with adrenaline-filled spectators, who erupt with thunderous ovations and raucous boos in response to nearly every movement on the field. The Bronx will be buzzing with an electricity in the air that can’t be ignored, and will ignite both teams to play at higher level than a typical regular season series.
Or at least, that’s what we hope.
Indeed, the Mets can use a kickstart — or maybe electroshock treatment — to induce passionate play. With the Yankees stampeding back from 14 games behind to where they can smell wild card contention, we will see much more spirited play from the pinstripes than what they displayed three weeks ago. The giant has been awken — this is a hungry, angry, merciless Yankee monster looking to stomp on the Mets’ neck. If that’s not enough motivation for the Mets to reverse their ambivalent, dispassionate play, then we’ll know to pack it in now — the season really is over.
The circuslike hoopla around this series is exactly what the Mets need to get going — similar to what the St. Louis Cardinals faced at the end of the 2006 regular season. The Cardinals had nearly lost first place in the NL Central, losing 10 of their last 13 games. They were playing much like the Mets are now — it seemed nothing could go right, the players had a glazed look over their faces, and no end appeared in sight. Somehow they managed to hold on to first place — more luck than anything — and the opening of the playoffs gave them a new, fresh start. Suddenly, it didn’t matter what had happened in the previous two weeks — the time had arrived to rise to the occasion and start playing inspired, winning baseball.
Of course, the series between the Yankees and Mets is not the playoffs, but the aura around that games can make it feel as such. It’s an ideal opportunity to forget the last two weeks, and start fresh.
A two-hit shutout by Oliver Perez would help quite a bit.