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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yankees, Mets both beginning 2018 MLB season with fresh starts

Yankees manager Aaron Boone and Mets manager Mickey

Yankees manager Aaron Boone and Mets manager Mickey Callaway during spring training ahead of the 2018 season. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara, Alejandra Villa

Wow, did we get 2017 all wrong.

Predicting a World Series for the Mets and a methodical two-year rebuild for the Yankees? To say the two New York teams flipped the script on last season would be an understatement.

And we definitely weren’t alone in that miscalculation.

But as drastically different as these two clubs finished, with the 92-loss Mets ending up in fourth place and the 91-win Yankees falling one victory short of the World Series, what happened next was remarkably similar.

They both hired new managers with zero experience in the big chair.

Fresh start. Clean slate. Use whatever cliche you like. But when it comes to this 2018 season, from a New York perspective, the quote that keeps popping into our head is credited to the Roman philosopher Seneca, who once said, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

For the Yankees, that brings to mind the enduring image of that Game 7 night at Minute Maid Park, the dejected players hanging over the dugout railing, their underdog dream evaporating under the dome against the eventual world champion Astros. When a team makes it that far, to the very cusp of a pennant, there no longer is enjoyment in merely defying the experts, no consolation in proving people wrong.

Only relentless heartache and a burning desire to get back, which describes how the Yankees are awaiting their opening series against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.

The irony of that, however, is a new manager who didn’t experience all that with them. Instead, Aaron Boone was summoned from the TV booth to complete the job that Joe Girardi hadn’t been able to in nearly a decade.

Pressure? The Yankees haven’t been hyped this much in years, and it will be fascinating to see how this group responds, from Boone’s rookie handling of the club to Giancarlo Stanton’s adjustment to the bright lights in the Bronx.

“We understand the expectations,” Boone said. “A lot of these guys came of age and had what was viewed as a very successful season. But I think what stands out, being in that clubhouse, is that each and every guy I’ve spoken with, the hunger is there and there’s no satisfaction with what they were able to accomplish. From what I can tell, the hunger in these guys is real.”

It should be. The Yankees haven’t won a World Series since 2009, and incredibly are two titles behind the Red Sox since 2004. Brett Gardner and CC Sabathia are the only players from that ’09 championship still on the roster.

Last year at this time, Sabathia was asked how he felt about being part of the rebuilding process everyone thought was far from complete. Now re-signed to a new $10-million deal for this season, Sabathia fields questions about what it’s like for the Yankees to be wearing bull’s-eyes again as one of the sport’s juggernauts.

In other words, what usually comes with the territory in the Bronx.

“I don’t think we’re going to get any more passes like we did last year,” Sabathia said. “This is our reality. We have to embrace who we are and what we are — that’s the Yankees, and whatever comes along with that.”

The Yankees’ 2018 identity is clear. Two 50-homer sluggers in Aaron Judge and Stanton headline a bashing outfit that should threaten to demolish the franchise’s single-season record of 245. The bullpen is airtight. The rotation? A potential Achilles’ heel that might need to be fortified around the trade deadline.

AS FOR THE METS . . .

As for the Mets, any hope for this season lies just where it always does: with the starting staff, a Fab 5 that has spent the past three years constantly chasing their potential.

The difference this year? They actually might pitch together in the same rotation, depending on the brief rehab of the newly acquired Jason Vargas, picked up in the offseason for a two-year, $16-million deal meant to serve as insurance against past misfortunes.

The hiring of Mickey Callaway, the Indians’ former pitching coach, as the replacement for Terry Collins could be a perfect solution to the rotation’s recurring problems, along with the addition of Dave Eiland as his coach in charge of the staff.

Collins served the Mets well during his seven years at the helm, and the sight of his emotional exit interview outside the visitors’ clubhouse in Philadelphia again illustrated how deeply he was invested in this team.

But all managers eventually reach their expiration dates, and in Callaway, the Mets recognized that it was time for a modern upgrade, especially with a front office that wanted to better mesh its analytical approach with the person in charge of running the clubhouse.

Will that translate to more wins? It should help, but Callaway’s influence can impact only so much. The Mets are going to need to max out the projections with this ’18 crew, and if so, a playoff spot should be in reach.

“Every player I talk to, all they want to do is win,” Callaway said. “They want to go out and do whatever it takes. When you get a group like that, you can do something special. If we don’t do something special with the group we have in place, it’s going to be on the leadership of that. That’s going to be on me.”

While stressing accountability is always the right message, what goes down in Flushing isn’t totally on Callaway, of course, just as the Mets’ implosion wasn’t all on Collins last year.

But enough about the past. With spring training finally over, we’ve arrived at the page-turning point for both the Yankees and Mets. On to 2018.

And if 2017 taught us anything, it’s to leave those preconceptions down in Florida.

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