Friday, September 5, 2008

One Final Tango

(This would have been much more effective if Schneider were dancing with Chase Utley instead of Mike Jacobs)

The final Mets/Phillies series of the season begins tonight, and it's hard to believe that the season has flown by so fast. These Mets/Phillies games have taken on a life of their own, so much so that this entire weekend is just going to get bigger and bigger. Tonight's the first act, with Pelfrey and Brett Myers squaring off, the hot hands on both sides delivering the keynote speech. Tomorrow afternoon, a nationally-televised affair on FOX. Although I haven't heard much from him this season, and it's quite possible he's off somewhere fawning over Troy Aikman, Joe Buck should be on hand for the festivities, which inlcudes the much-ballyhooed Turf War, as scores of Philly fans have planned to storm Shea. Sunday was supposed to be a day game, but how could the last Mets/Phillies game of the season pass with such little fanfare? No, the powers that be stepped in, and the final game of the season between these two rivals will, indeed, be The Biggest Game In The Galaxy, featuring The Biggest Pitching Matchup In The Galaxy, Johan Santana vs.
Cole Hamels.

Initially, it appeared I wouldn't get to any of these games. But once again, I appear to be the only one who's benefitted from Sunday's time change. Because the game was moved to Sunday Night, I can go, and I'll be there. One last time for the Mets and the Phillies.

These games seemed to take on a life of their own from before the season even began. After the way last year played out, with the Phillies treating the Mets with little respect, indignantly sweeping them 3 times and winning the last 8 games they played with each other. Then, there was the war of words between Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Beltran. Clearly, the Mets were intent on playing the Phillies as if they had a score to settle. The Phillies were more than happy to play with that same intensity, and even talked about brawling if they had to. The rival factions joined in the fun as well. It started way, way back in February. It's been a long-standing tradition for Mets fans to take the trip to Philadelphia and take over Steroid Field II, or The Vet before that. Philly fans come to Shea, too, but not quite in the same numbers. This year, Philly planned to change that, and Saturday, September 6th will be their day. Entire sections of the Upper Deck in far left field have been bought up and Philly fans are ready and raring to make themselves known. Assuming the game isn't washed away completely (heavy rain and winds are forecast all day for Saturday), it will certainly be a very, very interesting afternoon at Shea.

Although the Mets/Phillies games seemed to take on a Playoff Atmosphere and the fans certainly did their share of noisemaking as the season progressed, the teams themselves backed off from any physical fisticuffs. They just shut up and played, which is what they're supposed to do (not that I have a problem with a good brawl every so often). The Phillies won the first matchup, kicking the Mets and their sellout Opening Day crowd in the nuts on April 8th. But the Mets rebounded, beating the Phillies soundly the following night, and in a tense, 12-inning game won by Angel Pagan and a nifty slide by Jose Reyes. Energized, the Mets went on a brief winning streak, capped off by winning two of three in their first trip to Philly, although Philly came back to win the finale because of the Mets inability to get a key hit.

The teams didn't meet again until July, and it seemed like a different season by that point. The Mets had basically gone to hell and back, and didn't exactly look the worse for wear. The Phillies, meanwhile, had stormed ahead, but never really pulled away despite several moments when it looked like they were ready to do so. And when they came back against the Mets and won the series opener, it seemed like the Phillies were going to leave the Mets in their dust. But that didn't happen. The Mets instead came back and won the next two games, coming back in one, and shaking off a disastrous blown save by Wagner in the other. These games began to take on a formula: One team storms out early, the other team comes back late. Sometimes, they tie. Sometimes, they fall short. Sometimes, they take the lead. Sanity and logic are out the window. And the finale of this series held true to form, as the Mets stormed out to an early 9-run lead and nearly blew the damn thing, barely holding on for a 10-9 victory.

The formulaic Mets/Phils game happened again back at Shea in late July. With the two teams now tied for 1st place, the Mets came in and were Cruising along with a 5-2 lead, the Mets went into the 9th inning without their closer and promptly and thoroughly shit the bed, allowing the Phillies to run away with the game in a 6-run bloodbath. Such a loss should have crippled the Mets. It didn't. Instead, the Mets came back and gave everyone the proverbial middle finger, winning the next two games by a mile and by an inch, exiting the series, amazingly, in sole posession of 1st place.

Then, last week in Philadelphia. More of the same. With both teams streaking ahead and falling back, it was a neck and neck race that continues to this day. The Mets entered half a game ahead. It was that game in July again, where the Mets stormed ahead, and the Phillies made a furious comeback. But this time, it worked. The Phillies tied the game in the 9th, and won in the 13th in a game that was like a bad movie that went on too long. Another potentially devastating loss for the Mets. So, of course, the Mets came back from a late deficit and won the next night.

The Mets have, for the most part, handled the Phillies well this season, winning 10 of 15. They've been the hotter team over the last few weeks, and fresh off their sweep of Milwaukee, certainly come into this series on a higher note than the Phillies, who struggled against Washington. What happens this weekend remains to be seen. But you can bet the farm that these teams are going to make it interesting.

They always do, don't they.

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