By now, maybe tempers have cooled a bit between the Mets and Yankees after the dust-up over the Jay Bruce trade, with each side blaming the other for Sandy Alderson’s decision to send him to Cleveland and not the Bronx.
Even so, the two teams’ quibbling over scuttled deals makes for an attractive subplot with the Subway Series ready to kick off tomorrow in the Bronx. The Mets may have turned the page to 2018 weeks ago, but they do have the ability to blast a sizable hole in the Yankees’ playoff chances, and the opportunity to play spoiler counts for something.
Such is the allure of the Subway Series, which returned in 1997, the season Bud Selig introduced the radical notion of interleague play and two New York teams faced each other in a meaningful game for the first time in 40 years since the Dodgers and Giants bolted for the West Coast.
Leading up to this week’s meeting, there have been 108 regular-season games between the interborough rivals, with the Yankees holding a 62-46 edge. Perhaps the best thing about the Subway Series is to always expect the unexpected, and so we decided to rank the most memorable moments, with some bordering on the bizarre.
‘A tracer bullet at my coconut.’
The quote is from Mike Piazza, who described the Roger Clemens fastball that drilled him on the NY of his batting helmet in Game 2 of a wild day-night, dual-stadium doubleheader on July 8, 2000. The Rocket evidently wanted payback for Piazza crushing a grand slam off him a month earlier, and Piazza wound up with a hospital trip and a concussion. The repercussions from that beaning carried into the World Series that October and the seasons that followed.
‘Mlicki pretty much pitched perfect.’
Those words were spoken by a baffled Derek Jeter, giving praise to the unheralded Dave Mlicki, who stole the show by outlasting Andy Pettitte and hurling a complete game in the Mets’ 6-0 victory at Yankee Stadium on June 16, 1997. Mlicki struck out eight and held the Yankees to 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position, earning himself fame as the answer to perhaps the most-asked trivia question about the event: Who won the first Subway Series game?
‘I wouldn’t call him an athlete . . . . ’
Said Mets manager Willie Randolph, talking about reliever Dae-Sung Koo, who stunned the Shea Stadium crowd on May 21, 2005, by hitting a double off Randy Johnson and scoring from second on Jose Reyes’ sacrifice bunt when the Yankees failed to cover the plate. Earlier in the week, the lefty-hitting Koo whiffed without taking a swing, his feet barely inside the batter’s box. Not only that, but he increased the level of difficulty by running the bases with a weighted steel baseball in his jacket pocket, which he landed on, painfully, with his headfirst slide to the plate.
‘One out of 100.’
That’s how Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez referred to Luis Castillo’s unfathomable drop of what should have been Alex Rodriguez’s game-ending pop-up in the Bronx on June 12, 2009. We’d say more like out of 1,000. With two Yankees on, Castillo somehow clanked the routine pop, with Mark Teixeira sprinting all the way from first base to score the winning run in the Yankees’ 9-8 victory.
‘Little Jerry Seinfeld’
Mets reliever Tim Byrdak, having some fun after closer Frank Francisco labeled the Yankees’ “chickens” on the eve of the series, bought a live hen in Chinatown, transported it to the Citi Field clubhouse and borrowed the name from an episode of the comedian’s TV show, which featured a cock-fighting champion. For all the attention, Francisco apparently wasn’t fazed for the series opener, earning his 18th save in the Mets’ 6-4 victory on June 22, 2012.
‘That wasn’t the plan.’
At least that’s what Steve Phillips said in referring to the Bronx massacre of June 6, 1999, when the Mets’ general manager fired three members of the coaching staff from under Bobby Valentine — in the middle of the Subway Series, no less. He said it was supposed to be after the series but was worried about it leaking out. With the Mets mired in an eight-game losing streak, Phillips axed pitching coach Bob Apodaca, hitting coach Tom Robson and bullpen coach Randy Niemann in a move some believed was done to force Valentine to resign. But he didn’t, and the Mets went 40-15 the rest of the way to secure a wild-card berth.
‘People can draw their own conclusions.’
So said Shawn Estes in explaining the 87-mph fastball he threw behind Roger Clemens’ posterior on June 15, 2002, at Shea Stadium, the presumed revenge — two years after the fact — for the Rocket twice taking aim at Mike Piazza, once with a baseball and once with a shattered bat. While the Mets seemed disappointed that Estes didn’t actually hit Clemens, he did come through at the plate, drilling a two-run homer off him in the Mets’ 8-0 rout of the Yankees.
‘All the 500 saves belong to my teammates.’
This could only be uttered by one New Yorker, and it was part of Mariano Rivera’s postgame reaction after nailing down No. 500 in the Yankees’ 4-2 victory on June 28, 2009, at Citi Field. Rivera joined Trevor Hoffman in the two-man club by recording a four-out save, but he seemed almost as proud of his first career RBI, courtesy of a bases-loaded walk by Francisco Rodriguez.
‘Proof that positive things still can happen.’
What else was there to say for Dwight Gooden, whose drug-derailed career finally returned him to Shea Stadium on July 8, 2000 — in a Yankee uniform. The man once known as Dr. K had only one strikeout and stuck around for only five innings, allowing six hits and two runs, but the effort was enough for win No. 191. Despite the sentimental pull of Gooden’s homecoming, he soon was overshadowed when the day-night, dual-stadium doubleheader switched to the Bronx, where Clemens beaned Piazza.
‘Act like you’ve hit one before.’
Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca was none too thrilled when Alex Rodriguez admired his handiwork after a grand slam and seven RBIs keyed the Yankees’ 16-7 rout on July 2, 2006. Rodriguez flipped his bat and flashed a celebratory glance at the Yankees’ dugout before rounding the bases, and as he crossed the plate, Lo Duca was there to voice his displeasure. He also got into it with Jason Giambi before all three had to be separated.