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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yankees, Mets hope to carry playoff feeling for a while longer

Mets second baseman Javier Baez is charged with

Mets second baseman Javier Baez is charged with an error on his throw to first base during the eighth inning against the Yankees in an MLB baseball game at Citi Field on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Going into this Subway Series, the goal wasn’t as much about winning the weekend as surviving it.

The Yankees had fallen off a cliff. The Mets spent their preceding trip merely holding serve with the NL East’s cellar-dwellers.

And the baseball was only part of it, with the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks positioned right in the middle. There was a lot happening, on top of this being September, with both teams grinding through a playoff chase.

But heading into Sunday night’s prime-time finale at Citi Field, regardless of the outcome, the Yankees and Mets could take some comfort in the fact they would resume their season relatively intact. After what the two teams have been through recently, that’s no small feat.

Consider the Yankees, who carried a six-game losing streak with them to Flushing and then got whacked by the Mets, 10-3, in the opener. It was as dispiriting a loss as they’ve endured all season, replete with errors both mental and physical, amplified by stumbling against their little brother from the next borough over.

Those prone to hyperbole were ready to toss dirt on the Yankees right then and there. Anyone witnessing such a collapse would have reason to think there was no coming back. We later found out, however, that a postgame clubhouse meeting that same night may have ignited a flickering spark and the Yankees finally found some inspiration Saturday.

Maybe the 9/11-fueled emotion helped trigger some of that, along with Mets starter Taijaun Walker perhaps tipping his pitches as the Yankees throttled him for three homers in a five-run second inning. The back-and-forth that ensued raised new doubt when the Mets took the lead, but Aaron Judge tied it with his second blast of the game in the eighth inning and the Yankees went ahead to stay, 8-7, on Javy Baez’s botched double-play relay throw.

Afterward, both Judge and Brett Gardner suggested that Friday’s clubhouse summit helped cut through the rising tension, and when you’re going as bad as the Yankees were, anything you think helps probably does.

"I think the biggest thing was just remind guys that, hey, we’re still in the playoff hunt," Judge said. "The world’s not crashing down on us. Remind everybody who they are -- who we are. We’re the New York Yankees. It’s an honor and privledge to get a chance to wear these pinstripes and play for this team. When you get into September baseball in New York, that’s when it’s fun."

That’s easy to forget when you’re dropping seven straight, and 11 of 13, but the Yankees now have reason to feel better about the week ahead. Not only do they have four cupcakes lined up in the Twins, Orioles, Cleveland and the Rangers, but Gerrit Cole (hamstring) is expected to return to the rotation Tuesday after last week’s scary fourth-inning exit.

The one troubling leftover? With the Blue Jays win earlier, the Yankees slipped a half-game out of a wild-card spot before Sunday night’s finale. As for the Mets, splitting the first two games of the Subway Series was frustrating due to Saturday’s near-miss, wiping out a five-run deficit before wasting a two-run lead provided by James McCann’s dramatic homer.

Unlike the Yankees, however, the Mets’ margin for error has just about disappeared. Friday night’s thumping of their Bronx pals supplied a bit of a bounce. Ideally, that would have propelled them through the late innings Saturday as well, if not for karma biting Trevor May, who mocked Yankee Stadium’s short porch only to have Judge take him deep with the tying homer at cavernous Citi Field.

May later ate those words in Saturday night’s Zoom session -- "I’m never going to make a comment like that again. No more jokes about stadiums. Ever," he said -- but the damage was done. For the Mets, it shouldn’t be fatal. Not yet anyway. Entering Sunday night, the Braves’ earlier victory knocked them to 5 1/2 games back with 19 games remaining. Not impossible, but not all that realistic either.

At least Brandon Nimmo (hamstring) said Sunday afternoon that he plans to return by later in the week, and maybe Noah Syndergaard comes back to fortify the bullpen before the playoff conversation is officially over. The Mets still are very much in the desperate category, but they do have hope, however fading.

That’s all you can ask after any Subway Series, a draining exercise that has no equivalent around the league. And for this one happening so late in September, headlined by the 9/11 anniversary, many of the players described the weekend as having a "playoff feel."

Primarily the Yankees, but even the Mets, are still aiming to get that for real in a few more weeks.

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