Alex Rodriguez overdid it a bit, but certainly not from the standpoint of fans.

"It means everything,'' A-Rod said of this weekend's Subway Series. "New York's the capital of the baseball world, and to have both teams playing so well and being so relevant, I think it's an especially important series. Probably more so for us than for them.''

The last part is unquestionably true.

The latest iteration of the Subway Series is dripping with story lines, not the least of which includes the "relevancy'' of both teams this late in the season.

The Mets are still very much in control of the NL East, leading the Nationals by eight games.

The Yankees, however, are in "every game is a must win'' mode. They're trailing the Blue Jays by 31/2 games, desperate to avoid the one-game wild-card playoff.

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"It's going to feel like playoff baseball, and that's probably a good thing,'' said Joe Girardi, whose team heads to Toronto after the Subway Series for three games against the Blue Jays.

Girardi has embraced the Subway Series in ways his predecessor, Joe Torre, did not. Torre, and many of the biggest names on his roster, including Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte, looked at series against the Mets almost as a no-win proposition.

Win, and that's what the Yankees were supposed to do. Lose, and much of the time it meant facing the wrath of George Steinbrenner, who couldn't stomach spring training losses to the Mets, let alone regular-season ones.

But those days, at least in the clubhouse, are a distant memory.

"Just a fun place to play, a great atmosphere,'' Brett Gardner said of Citi Field. "I've always enjoyed being part of the Yankees-Mets rivalry. I know this year they're obviously having a great year and are in a really good position to win the division and we're right here fighting for ours. There's a lot at stake.''

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Rookie first baseman Greg Bird, a baseball junkie, watched plenty of Subway Series games on television over the years and is looking forward to his first foray into the rivalry.

"I heard it's probably going to be pretty loud over there, so I'm sure it will be a great, great atmosphere,'' Bird said. "I'm looking forward to it. I don't know what to expect, but it's going to be fun, I know that. It definitely adds to it that both teams are in a playoff race.''

Carlos Beltran, a former Met, said the fans make the series much of what it is, but the players don't get overly carried away.

"For the fans, these type of series are always big,'' Beltran said. "For us, as ballplayers, we concentrate on playing the game and trying to win the game. We don't really get caught up into the whole hype.''

Beltran, however, didn't downplay the importance of this weekend. "For us, they're huge games,'' he said. "We have to go there and hopefully win the series. That's what's going to help us get closer to our goal.

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Gardner all but shrugged at a question about the "challenge'' the red-hot Mets pose.

"I'm not concerned about that,'' he said, referencing the start of the previous Subway Series, April 25 at the Stadium. "The last time we played them we were facing Harvey [actually Jacob deGrom] and they had won 11 in a row and we beat them [6-1]. So it doesn't matter who you're playing at this point, we're just trying to win.''

A-Rod, who will be relegated to pinch-hitting duties this weekend because there won't be a DH, smiled regarding the atmosphere he expects at Citi.

"I've heard from some good sources that it's off the charts,'' he said, likely a nod to Mets hitting coach Kevin Long, formerly his hitting coach with the Yankees. "It's good for them, good for the franchise, it's good for their fans. It's good for baseball.''