Yankees manager Joe Torre is being carried off the field...

Yankees manager Joe Torre is being carried off the field at the end of the game after the Yankees defeated the Mets 4-2 in Game 5 of the World Series Thursday, Oct. 26, 2000 at Shea Stadium. Credit: Newsday / David L. Pokress

Subway Series II?

With seven weeks remaining in the regular season, the Mets lead the NL East and the Yankees are back in first place in the AL East.

On Aug. 16, 2000, the Yankees were four games ahead of the Red Sox and the Mets were three games behind the Braves. Ultimately, the New York teams faced each other for the first time in the World Series, which the Yankees won in five games for their third straight title.

So let the speculation begin.

"We had two wild-card teams end up in the World Series last year [the Giants defeated the Royals in seven games], so we absolutely have the potential of it,'' said Steve Phillips, the general manager of the Mets in 2000 and now the host of an MLB Network show on satellite radio. "And it would be an interesting matchup.

"The Yankees on given days can pitch with anybody and they do their best to shorten the game. The Mets have the fewest bullpen innings pitched by any pitching staff in baseball. You've got a veteran offensive team with some World Series pedigree for the Yankees and, for the Mets, you've got some guys that have tasted it before. It would be really interesting.''

Bobby Valentine, manager of the 2000 Mets, thinks his former team can make it. "I think the Mets are destined right now,'' he said. "I think they have a team that is going to be very difficult to stop.''

Former Mets closer John Franco, a member of the 2000 Mets, is rooting for the rematch. "It's good for baseball, it's great for the city, that both teams are in first place this late in the season,'' he said. "It could happen. The Mets' pitching staff is unbelievable. I think they have the best pitching staff in baseball. When you get into a short series and you have the pitching they have, you have to give them the advantage.''

Valentine recalled the energy of the city 15 years ago. "I remember walking the streets of the city during the Series and the truck drivers and the cab drivers were yelling out the window to me,'' he said. "It was ever present. It was just the most fun time I've had. I don't know if I stepped out of my body then or if I've stepped out of my body since. It was surreal, but it was also very real. I could not take a step without somebody saying or doing something . . . All I know is leading up to it, the few off days that we had before the Series began, there was no more electric or exciting place to be than in this area.''

Joe Torre, who managed the Yankees in 2000 and now is an executive with Major League Baseball, declined to comment.

David Cone, who had pitched for the Mets, was in his last year with the Yankees in 2000. "We definitely felt like we were on center stage,'' said Cone, now an analyst for Yankees games on YES. "We had police escorts back and forth. The whole city seemed to stop and take notice. Which is a hard thing in New York City.''

The Mets were 94-68 in 2000 but finished one game behind the Braves and had to settle for the wild card. They beat the Giants in four games and the Cardinals in five for the NL pennant.

The Yankees won their division with a record of 87-74. They beat the A's in five and the Mariners in six for the AL pennant.

"People talked about the Subway Series leading up to the playoffs,'' Phillips said. "I would always joke, 'Well, we're going to do our part. I just hope the Yankees do their part.' ''

Phillips said he realized the Mets were underdogs against a franchise that had 25 world titles compared to two for the Mets. "It did feel like the Yanks had some part of an upper hand on us at that time,'' he said. "I realized we had a chance to win but I also believed that the Yankees were favored and understood why because of the recent history and tradition of the organization.''

And the Yankees had petulant owner George Steinbrenner, who would boil over if the Mets won a spring training game against his team, much less the Series. "With George there, you could imagine the pressure. More on us than them,'' Gene Michael -- who served in many capacities under the late owner -- said, referring to the Mets. "It was enjoyable because we won. If we had gotten behind, it wouldn't have been fun. I know it was the most pressurized Series for us.''

Cone said of Steinbrenner's presence, "We felt like we were in the middle of a dynasty. It was the last chapter of that era, so we certainly felt the pressure. George was remarkable. At Shea, he didn't like the fact that the chairs in front of the lockers were Mets chairs. He had a moving company rearrange all the furniture and bring in Yankees chairs and sofas.

"He was involved in all the coaches' meetings. He wanted to be part of the staff. Obviously, [because] it was the Mets, the battle for the back pages was very important to George. I think we all felt we had more to lose than the Mets.''

Dwight Gooden, who also played for both teams, had called the Mets at the beginning of the season, looking for a job, but wound up with the Yankees. "My older kids saw me play with the Mets, my younger kids saw me play with the Yankees,'' he said. "My kids were divided. It was a very strange time for me. When we won the last game at Shea Stadium, it was very weird. You knew that Series was bigger for George. Had the Mets beat us, he probably would have tore at that team and got rid of a lot of guys.''

Phillips said Mets ownership, led by Fred Wilpon, appeared under control. "What he truly felt and what I experienced may not be the same,'' Phillips said, "but I experienced Fred as being a gracious loser in the series and proud of the accomplishments of the organization and the team to have gotten there.''

The Yankees and Mets will offer what could be a preview of a Subway World Series with three interleague games at Citi Field on Sept. 18-20. They could be crucial for each team.

And if the Yankees and Mets do meet again after that, who would be favored?

"The pressure,'' Michael said, "would still be on the Yankees.''

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