June 2008

Double Down

So now it’s officially over, even though the outcome of this day had
been certain for quite some time. The lights are still on here at Shea
Stadium, roughly half an hour after LaTroy Hawkins threw the day’s final pitch. Groundskeepers
are watering down the infield with a hose. A few workers are in the stands
picking up trash. Everyone is preparing to do it again.

Not two games, mind you, but one. This doubleheader was
enough for everyone — Mets and Yankees included. Indeed, Jerry Manuel was
only three minutes into his postgame interview session when he jumped out of
his chair and started toward the door. 

“I’m tired,” Manuel said. “I’ll see y’all tomorrow.”

On the other side — the winning side — Joe Girardi was
faced with roster decisions, given that Sidney Ponson pitched well enough to earn
another start. 

But roster decisions are rarely fun at midnight.

“It’s been kind of a long day,” Girardi said. “I’m just
going to go home and sleep, and we’ll make some decisions from there.” 

No free time, but no one’s complaining. The Yankees and Mets
both felt that something was missing from this day, because they both felt they
could have played vastly better — the Yankees in the afternoon, and the Mets
at night.

But for the fans, this day couldn’t be beat. Two games, one
each in Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium. This was history. This will never
happen again.

These games count

Let’s talk baseball.

Let’s talk about the Yankees, who are cruising to victory in
this game and seem healthier than they have at any point this year. Despite
their blowout loss in Friday’s day game — and we’ll just forget about that one
– the Yankees have suddenly placed themselves in contention. They’re doing it
with Sidney Ponson, for goodness sake. It’s going to take work to make the
playoffs, but somehow, they’re in a legitimate position to get there. 

Let’s talk about the Mets, who won the day game in
convincing fashion, and due to a string of Phillies losses and one minor
miracle, also remain in playoff contention. They did it today with Carlos
Delgado, whose bat they desperately need to rediscover. And a week from now
they’ll head to Philadelphia,
perhaps to reclaim the division lead.

Seems this dual-stadium doubleheader is more than just a
flashy gimmick, more than a way to get fans bantering back and forth at the
ballpark. There was chanting, sure — there still is up high in the stadium,
even now with the second game all but decided. But these games are significant,
and neither team distinguished itself today. 

One step forward for the Mets, and one step back.

One step back for the Yankees, and one step forward. 

So let’s talk about the future for these teams, and most
specifically, these next two games. The Yankees and Mets are pitting perhaps
their hottest pitchers against each other on Saturday, with Andy Pettitte starting
opposite Johan Santana. Then it’s perhaps their coldest starters on Sunday,
with Darrell Rasner countering Oliver Perez. Both games are evenly matched. A
split seems plausible.

But each team desperately wants to win both.

In with the new, out with the old

There is something quite conspicuous at both ends of this
doubleheader. In the Bronx, right next to the
Subway, it’s the hulking form of the new Yankee Stadium, looking nearly
complete from the outside. Massive stone blocks rise up into the sky, dwarfing
even the old Yankee Stadium across the street. Only some construction trucks
and unfinished wood betray its incompleteness, and those too will disappear
before long.

In Flushing, the first
sight off the Subway is Citi Field, the nearly-complete future home of the
Mets. Its brick exterior is humble in ways that the new Yankee Stadium is not,
and homely in ways of which the old Shea Stadium could never dream. Modeled
after Ebbets Field, former home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Citi Field is an
upgrade from Shea in every way but size. And that’s just how the Mets want it. 

Those two parks will house the Yankees and Mets,
respectively, next year, and workers are continuing to prepare them throughout
the summer. So this season has become something of a farewell tour for Yankee
Stadium and Shea Stadium, and this weekend’s Subway Series has come to
punctuate that farewell.

Never again will these two teams play at Yankee Stadium –
barring a World Series — and after this weekend, never again will they play at
Shea. So when Joe Girardi called this an “unusual” weekend, he wasn’t kidding. 

It will never happen again. What a sobering thought.

The way the Yankees played during the first game of this
doubleheader, Girardi might not want it to ever happen again. But both teams
seem crisper in the nightcap, with the Yankees cracking a scoreless tie by
touching Pedro Martinez for two runs in the fourth. I’m watching it all from
the press box, just having polished off a roasted turkey sub from Mama’s of Corona — bar none the
best concessions at Shea.

Twelve innings down, six innings to go. If not more.

One Down, One to Go

The festive atmosphere has drained out of Yankee Stadium,
and the fans are streaming toward the exits.

“Not a good start,” one of them said. 

Not for the Yankees. Not after this nine-run blowout.

Good thing there’s a whole game left to play. 

Idling just outside Yankee Stadium’s player entrance is a
small army of sleek white buses, waiting to transport this whole operation over
the Triborough Bridge. A relatively speedy few innings helped
to move this game along, and there’s another police escort lying in wait. But to
get to Shea Stadium in time for Friday’s nightcap, the Yankees and Mets still
must battle rush-hour traffic. On a Friday. In the summer.

Both teams are set to jump in those buses only 20 minutes
after the final pitch, and get set for a (somewhat) fresh start at Shea.

We’re four hours in, and we’re not even half done. Time to strap in.

Caffeine, anyone?

The area around Yankee Stadium, at least by New York standards, is
barren. Aside from some stray bars and hot dog stands, there’s not a whole lot
to greet the No. 4 train as it rumbles above the street and past the stadium
walls.

Good thing the park itself has its own fine selection of
food. Besides the standard fare — Nathan’s hot dogs are among the best in the
game — Yankee Stadium boasts some unique sandwich shops, including a Goya
stand that serves hot Cuban sandwiches and a Carl’s Steaks shop that doles out
fresh cheese steaks. There’s an Arthur
Avenue stand for those in need of a good Italian
sub, and if all else fails, the chicken fingers rarely disappoint. 

The food runs a bit pricey — $4 for a pretzel, $9.50 for a
beer and $10 for a chicken finger basket add up — but the portions are large.

So glancing at the scoreboard and realizing that the Yankees
and Mets needed more than two hours to complete five innings, I thought some
more food might be necessary. But then I remembered what Jerry Manuel said
before the game — fans (and apparently not food) create the energy. 

“There’s no question that these people, these fans in this
city — regardless of who’s tired, who’s not tired, who’s fatigued — they
don’t care,” Manuel said. “They’re looking for a performance from both Yankees
and Mets, and hopefully we can give it to them.”

I’m not so sure this was the performance Manuel had in mind.
More than two and a half hours in, the Yankees and Mets are still stuck in the
top of the sixth inning. Tick, tock, tick, tock. Less than four hours until the
scheduled first pitch at Shea Stadium — at this rate, we might not make it in
time.

Rain Men

Nothing says baseball like dark clouds and gray skies. Or
something like that. 

The sun has yet to shine on Yankee Stadium this afternoon,
which could spell bad news for Friday’s dual-stadium doubleheader. Transporting
thousands of fans, two teams and one media horde from the Bronx to Queens is no easy task. Doing it on the heels of a rain
delay is something entirely different. 

Not that anybody’s resigned to a delay just yet. Though
forecasts call for scattered thunderstorms throughout this afternoon and
evening, there’s hope that both games will go off without a hitch. The first
game started on time. Consider that an omen.

Nearly all of Friday afternoon’s fans have already streamed
into Yankee Stadium — some of them cashing in rain checks from May’s postponed
game, some of them attending on the good graces of their friends, many of them
discreetly skipping work. 

Some held umbrellas. Others didn’t.

Some looked up to the gray sky and frowned. Others didn’t. 

While all this was taking place, however, one particularly
boisterous group of Yankee fans slowly began clapping, then humming and
whooping in time. They taunted a Mets fan as he passed, then yelled louder as
they tried to drown out his cries of “Go Mets!”

Forget the weather. The Subway Series had begun.

Meet the Mets

Fresh off their bus ride, rested and ready, here are the
Mets. They were flanked by a police escort from Queens to the Bronx,
and will have the same accommodations on the way back to Shea. It’s high
luxury, but for these two teams — in this city — it’s expected. So much for
those horror stories of traffic jams.

Mets interim manager Jerry Manuel knows all about rivalries
like these, having managed the White Sox for six full seasons. Those years
included quite a few trips to Wrigley Field, including one instance when he
walked in through an outfield gate to face the full wrath of Cubs fans. 

Manuel laughed on Friday, recalling the scene.

Yet those games were different — Chicago
is not New York,
after all — and Manuel knows that this time, he’s in for an entirely different
experience. He’s seen it in the past as a bench coach, and now he’s prepared to
see it as a manager. 

“The intensity is different to a degree,” Manuel said. “This
is probably a more visible stage. Chicago
was kind of like a backyard deal.”

Manuel said that perhaps the rivalry has softened between
the players themselves, with so many of them shuffling between clubs in this
era of free agency. But then again, among the current Yankees and Mets, only
Andy Phillips has spent time on the rosters of both teams. And even he has
never played a game for the Mets — he just signed Wednesday.

But the fans — now they care about this rivalry, even if
the players don’t. These New Yorkers grew up Yankees and Mets fans, and they’ll
remain so for the rest of their lives. All of which Manuel knows, causing him
to offer a pointed warning before Friday’s first game: 

“You have to perform in New York,” he said. “Period.”

Sleepwalking

On its own merits, this is a unique day in New York baseball. A fatiguing day, too. So
consider how the Yankees feel, watching their Thursday night game get washed
out in Pittsburgh, and then having to travel home for Friday’s doubleheader.
It’s an awfully quick turnaround, necessitated by an inability to fiddle with
Saturday’s schedule and an unwillingness to tempt fate and wait until Sunday.
“Unusual,” is how Yankees manager Joe Girardi described it, speaking while the
Mets — who were off Thursday — were all still gathering at Shea. 

“It’s not going to change it,” Girardi said, “but I don’t
understand it.”

Perhaps most affected was Dan Giese, who may have been
called upon to pitch in Thursday’s game had play ever resumed. That would have
created its own set of problems, but instead, the game was called. Giese
remained the man for Friday. 

Problems, problems, problems. But even so, this whole
atmosphere isn’t lost on Girardi. Between his sleeplessness and his roster
machinations — is Hideki Matsui going to the DL or isn’t he? — Girardi knows
that the fans who love him and the fans who hate him will all be coming out
today. And that alone should help every Yankee and Met make it through this
exhausting day.

“I think the energy level from the fans will be helpful,”
Girardi said. “There’s a buzz around the series — always.”

Double Dip

Back in April, back when we were all unsure about how this
season might unfold (and I know I still am), the Yankees and Mets both played
games on the same day in Chicago.
Due to a rare schedule quirk, the Mets were up at Wrigley Field playing the
Cubs while the Yankees were a few miles away at U.S. Cellular Field, taking on
the White Sox.

Peculiar? Yes. Contentious? Not quite. 

Now, these clubs are back in the same town on the same day
– but this time, it’s in New York, and this time, these 47-year rivals will be
battling each other. Precisely one week shy of the Fourth of July, fireworks sit
ready to launch in Queens and the Bronx.

This latest doubleheader, the third dual-stadium
doubleheader in this rivalry’s history, came about when a Subway Series game
was rained out back in May. To reschedule without conflict, the Yankees and
Mets decided to play an afternoon game at Yankee Stadium, followed by the
regularly scheduled night game at Shea. And so the city is set for another
bi-borough doubleheader, following similar circumstances in 2000 and 2003. 

The Yankees, for history’s sake, swept all four of those
games. And they come into this series in markedly better shape than the Mets,
who last week dismissed their manager and remain a game under .500.

But don’t let any apparent lopsidedness fool you. Probable
pitchers for the Mets include perhaps their hottest starter, Mike Pelfrey, and
easily their most legendary starter, Pedro Martinez. For the Yankees, it’s Dan
Giese and Sidney Ponson, two right-handers who weren’t even on the roster the
last time these two teams met. 

So fiddle with the formulas, solve the equations, and try to
figure this Subway Series — one that’s critical for both teams. The Mets need
to find an edge. The Yankees need to keep their edge. And neither team can
afford a sweep.

As for me, I’m jumping on the No. 4 train up to Yankee
Stadium, where Giese and Pelfrey are set to kick things off just after 2 p.m. It’s Friday, it’s summertime and it’s
double the baseball. Tough to argue with a combination like that.

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