With whole sections of empty seats Monday night at Citi Field and both rosters lacking the star power New York has come to expect, just how big a deal is the Subway Series supposed to be, anyway?
When Joe Girardi says before the game that his favorite memory from 17 years of this intracity rivalry is the night Mark Teixeira scored from first base on Luis Castillo's dropped pop-up, we start to wonder. Girardi played in the first Subway Series back in 1997, and that's the best he could come up with?
Maybe some of Girardi's enjoyment came from seeing the Mets embarrassed in the Bronx, as Castillo's gaffe was as stunning a blunder as the Subway Series has witnessed, if not the worst. And isn't that part of it, too?
Neither team was humiliated in this year's series opener, which turned out to be a pretty decent game, one the Mets should feel good about after coming back to beat the Yankees, 2-1. Sure, Ike Davis was awful again, whiffing three times. But that's easier to overlook on nights like this, the kind the Mets have had very few of during this upsetting season.
For the Yankees, it amounts to a shrug. In the big picture, this weekend's series against the Red Sox is far more significant. But dealing with their little brother in Flushing feels like a necessary chore, akin to doing the laundry or mowing the lawn.
The Mets, however, had plenty to gain, starting with changing the conversation from demoting Davis and promoting Zack Wheeler. They won't dodge those topics completely -- it's a daily ritual for Terry Collins -- but the Mets don't have many other big games left on their schedule.
In fact, Thursday at Yankee Stadium is likely to be the end of them, and that's going to make for an irritating, largely irrelevant grind during the second half of this season.
No wonder Collins was hoping -- and, during his more private moments, maybe praying -- that the Mets somehow can derail the Yankees for a few days. If only to give the manager a reprieve from what eventually may become a Collins Watch after the All-Star break.
"It's just the marketplace that we live in," Collins said. "There's going to be stories that don't have anything to do with the X's- and-O's of the game that create news, and I understand that, and have to deal with it.
"But certainly right now, our players have to focus on the New York Yankees and only the New York Yankees, and not anything else. If that means sitting in the training room for a while to get their heads on right, we've got to do that."
One way might be to check out the team across the field. The Yankees have climbed to first place in the American League East by relentlessly shuffling their roster, a hands-on approach that Brian Cashman began in the final week of spring training. He's had no choice, and the general manager has more critical decisions coming up in a few days when Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis are expected to return from the disabled list.
Perhaps Mets COO Jeff Wilpon was asking for advice from Cashman when the two had a lengthy conversation behind the batting cage before the game. It's not often that two high-ranking officials from these teams chat out in the open for a prolonged period. But the wide gap that currently exists between the Yankees and Mets tends to make for a less competitive relationship.
That dynamic was evident a few hours earlier, when Mariano Rivera sat in a circle with longtime Mets fans and employees for a meet-and-greet in the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. It was a nice gesture on Rivera's part, something he's been doing at stadiums around the majors this season. But the farewell event felt a little weird -- a Yankee holding court among the same people he's tormented for years.
So where's the hate? The Subway Series, at least the one we're stuck with now, feels as though it needs to find an edge from somewhere. With no A-Rod or Derek Jeter or Roger Clemens or Mike Piazza, the hero-villain dynamic has disappeared -- along with the priced-out fans, apparently.
What is anyone supposed to care about now? It's a strange but fitting question this time around.