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Friday Five: Subway Series figures

I'm enjoying this "Friday Five" bit, and I usually start thinking about a topic two or three days before. When I finished last week's, however, I immediately knew what I would do for today:

The Subway Series is here? We'll do five best Subway Series games! Easy peasy!

Then, I read last Sunday's New York Post, and my good buddy Mike Vaccaro listed his top eight Subway Series games. "Elite eight," he called them. Clever and everything, that Vac.

I'll give Vaccaro a pass this time, but if he (unknowingly) swipes another one of my ideas, we're going at it, "Anchorman" style.

I could've still done my own list, but I like to do these fresh, just like Frank Costanza said, in this "Seinfeld" episode, that he likes to see movies fresh. So instead, let's identify the five biggest figures - players, managers and whoever else - in the prior 14 years of Subway Series play.

1. MIKE PIAZZA

When he was the Mets' marquee player, he dominated this series like no one else. He produced memorable homers against not only Roger Clemens, multiple times, but also against Ramiro Mendoza on July 10, 1999 and Carlos Almanzar on June 17, 2001.

I think I'm safe in saying that Mets fans never loved Piazza more than in those Subway Series games: "You have All-Stars at every position? We have the most feared hitter in the game!" And Piazza lived up to that billing so often, and earned even greater popularity thanks to the Clemens imbroglio.

2. ROGER CLEMENS

The Subway Series really has lost some buzz over these past few years, and I think part of it is because those early seasons set the bar so high. If Piazza emerged as the biggest hero, then he should credit Clemens for being such a great villain.

You know that Clemens, frustrated by Piazza's continuous success against him, hit Piazza in the head on July 8, 2000, in the night game of the first Subway Series two-stadium doubleheader. You know that Clemens threw a broken bat toward Piazza in Game 2 of the 2000 World Series.

Do you remember the Mets' revenge on June 15, 2002, when Shawn Estes failed to hit Clemens but homered off of him, as did Piazza? 

As a special post-script, the Subway Series went national in 2004 when Piazza had to catch Clemens (then with the Astros) in the All-Star Game. Hilarious. It was like Rocky and Apollo teaming up in "Rocky III."

3. BOBBY VALENTINE

If Mets fans took special pride in having Piazza on their side, then the same went for Bobby V., the Mountain Dew to Joe Torre's Pepsi Free. He always was in the middle of the action, whether he was staring up at the press box when a media-advised move (trying Bill Pulsipher against Paul O'Neill) didn't work out on June 27, 1998 or holding a bizarre Yankee Stadium news conference with Steve Philips on June 6, 1999.

Valentine brought his unique energy to the Subway Series, and when the Mets fired him after the 2002 season, that energy was missed.

4. LUIS CASTILLO

Yes, to reiterate, the Subway Series isn't the same as it used to be. But if you were to ask which person has had an entire career defined by this series, we might have to go with Castillo, despite his many other accomplishments before he even put on a Mets uniform.

On June 12, 2009, the Mets needed one more out for a victory when Castillo dropped Alex Rodriguez's sky-high pop fly to short rightfield, allowing Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira to score the tying and winning runs, respectively.

Castillo recovered from the embarrassment, but many Mets fans never did. And when his name shows up on the Hall of Fame ballot in December 2015 - and it will; the guy had 1,889 career hits - the dropped pop fly will be the first thing many mention.

5. DEREK JETER

Think of the spectrum of players who have participated in this series: From Bernard Gilkey to Cecil Fielder, from Kazuo Matsui to Ruben Sierra, from Ike Davis to Brett Gardner. Now appreciate that Jeter has been there every step of the way.

The Yankees and Mets have played 26 series - one each in 1997 and 1998, then two each from 1999 through last year - and 78 games since '97. Jeter has played in 75 of those games and never has missed an entire series.

Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, to be fair, also have been on the Yankees' roster for the entirety of the Subway Series, but both missed specific series because they were on the disabled list; Posada has 61 Subway Series games on his ledger and Rivera 31. There's something to be said for showing up, and Jeter deserves credit as the series' most familiar face.

--I'll check in later from the Stadium, as we kick off Year 15 of interleague play.

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