David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
From the moment Andy Pettitte threw that opening pitch to Lance Johnson way back in 1997, the Subway Series always has been more of a burden for the Yankees. Even when the Bronx dynasty still was in its formative years, and Bobby Valentine's Mets were on the rise, the Yankees carried the weight of history, the Ruth-Gehrig-DiMaggio baggage, all those titles.
Losing to their Flushing rivals, in any capacity, was unthinkable -- for their players, their bombastic owner, and especially the fans. Conceptually, the Subway Series is a fun idea. Dividing the entire New York Metro region in half, pitting brother against brother, alienating close friends and relatives.
In reality, and particularly this season, it's not exactly a joy ride for the two teams involved. Not when this series is being played in mid-September, with little time to recover and division titles potentially on the line.
Sure, from the outside -- say Boston or Philly -- the whole affair, which kicks off again Friday at Citi Field, makes for great entertainment. As reality TV goes, it doesn't get any better. Kind of "Survivor" meets "Naked and Afraid" -- only in Citi Field's case, we're talking raccoons and canaries rather than snakes and wild boars.
And this weekend, like some game-show switcheroo, the roles are reversed. All of the pressure here, every last PSI, is squarely on the Mets.
There's no other way to look at it. Obviously, the Yankees can't go belly-up for three days at Citi. Not if they intend on catching the first-place Blue Jays, who host them for a final AL East showdown starting Monday at Rogers Centre.
But the Yankees have been doing this dance for a while now. Losing Mark Teixeira to a freakish cracked shin. Trying to balance a rotation with maybe 21/2 reliable starters. Worrying if their bullpen is spent, and how many bullets Dellin Betances has left. Wondering when $152-millon man Jacoby Ellsbury will show up on a consistent basis.
Despite all that, the Yankees find themselves positioned between a shot at the division title and the relative safety net of the wild card. They should be able to claim one or the other by Oct. 2, regardless of what goes down this weekend. The bet here is the Yankees will find a way.
As for the Mets, well, they're still winning the NL East. Our thinking hasn't changed on that. But there's a few different routes to the clincher, and the one that involves losing this series at home to the Yankees is not a path the Mets want to be traveling for the next three weeks.
Until this division is wrapped up, there are no gimmes in September. Every out will feel precious. Shea may be long gone, but we were there to witness playoff hopes die on the final days of the 2007 and '08 seasons. The Mets are in a different place now -- eight games up with 16 to go -- and this is an entirely different team, with the exception of David Wright.
But just as the Yankees have played all these years with a championship legacy chained around their necks during the Subway Series, the Mets now must contend with the ghosts of a not-so-pleasant past. And that's not a product of the media's imagination. That's fact. It ain't over 'til it's over.
"I think you're seeing just a little bit of a drainage on the system," Terry Collins said after dropping two straight to the Marlins. "We need to pick the energy level up a little."
This weekend at Citi should provide the antidote to that.
The last time the Mets faced a series this huge at home was at the end of July during a visit by the first-place Nationals. They had just reloaded at the trade deadline, bringing in five impact players -- including Yoenis Cespedes -- and then swept the dazed Nats as a raucous crowd made Citi sound like Shea for the first time in the building's seven-year existence.
The pressure didn't bother the Mets then. And now, with so much at stake against the Yankees -- perception or otherwise -- it's that type of history they need to repeat.