Whenever the New York Mets and New York Yankees get together for one of their annual Subway Series matchups, the games carry more weight than just determining wins and losses in the standings. It is a battle for bragging rights -- among the teams and players themselves, among friends, and even among family members.
Mets-Yankees games send New York City into a buzz
The winners have the privilege of chirping about their team's success until the next Subway Series. The losers have to endure the taunts until then.
Last weekend, the Mets and Yankees matched up in their first Subway Series of 2011. The boys from the Bronx took two-of-three games from their Queens counterparts, leaving Mets' fans to wait until Independence Day weekend for a chance at redemption.
The Mets visited Yankee Stadium last weekend, losing two in the three-game series
In the meantime, New York's National League fans are left to reminisce about past success against their intracity foes.
On May 19th, 2006, the Mets and Yankees faced off at Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York. It was the 1st game of their interleague series, so the matchup would set a tone for teams, players and fans alike.
The 7 train makes its way toward Shea Stadium (courtesy of newyorkmets.org)
Both teams were emerging as contenders in their respective leagues. The Mets were 24-16 thus far in the 2006 season, as they hoped to contend for a playoff spot in the National League East. The Yankees entered the game with a 23-16 record, as they sought to continue their impressive streak of American League postseason appearances.
The pitching matchup was a decided mismatch in the Yankees' favor -- on paper, at least. Toeing the rubber for the Yankees was Randy Johnson, owner of 268 victories during his impressive Major League career at the time. The Mets countered with Geremi Gonzalez, a journeyman who during his six years in the Major Leagues, had amassed exactly 26 wins to that point.
Shea Stadium hosted the first installment of the 2006 Subway Series
As a boisterous sold-out crowd of 56,289 settled into their seats, those donning Yankee jerseys and caps got the opportunity to cheer first.
The Bronx Bombers exploded for four runs in the top of the 1st inning, thanks to RBI singles by shortstop Derek Jeter and 3rd baseman Alex Rodriguez...followed by RBI doubles from 2nd baseman Robinson Cano and left fielder Bernie Williams. Gonzalez was overmatched by the powerful Yankee lineup...and before Randy Johnson even had to throw a pitch, he was staked to a 4-0 lead.
Derek Jeter helped stake the Yankees to an early lead
In most years, a 4-run deficit against Johnson was insurmountable. But the "Big Unit" was a big letdown for Yankee fans in 2006, entering the game with a 5-4 record and an ERA hovering around 5.00. The 42-year-old was not the dominant pitcher he had been in the past, causing many to wonder if he was reaching the end of the road.
Randy Johnson struggled during the 2006 season
The Mets did their best to validate that argument during the bottom of the 1st inning. Following a leadoff walk by shortstop Jose Reyes and a single from catcher Paul LoDuca, center fielder Carlos Beltran stepped to the plate. As a slight majority in the crowd chanted "Let's go Mets!," Beltran crushed a Johnson fastball to left field. Everyone in attendance watched as the ball nearly cleared the picnic area bleachers for a 3-run home run!
Johnson allows a 3-run HR to Carlos Beltran in the 1st inning
While Mets' fans cheered, Yankees' fans sulked. The tide had suddenly turned, and those in Shea Stadium's Upper Deck - Section 43 who wore navy blue-and-white were now enduring taunts from their blue-and-orange brethren. The action in the stands was heating up, in accordance with the action on the field itself.
When the Yankees scratched across a run in the top of the 3rd inning, many felt that order was being restored. A Cano sacrifice fly made it a 5-3 ballgame, and the chants of "Let's go Yankees!" started forming among the sizeable Bronx contingent in attendance.
Mets' and Yankees' fans alike packed Shea for the Subway Series
In the bottom half of the inning, however, the boys from Queens would once again prove their resiliency. Following a 2-out single by 3rd baseman David Wright, right fielder Xavier Nady lifted a deep fly ball to right-center field. Yankees' center fielder Johnny Damon and right fielder Melky Cabrera gave chase, then watched helplessly as the ball cleared the fence in front of the scoreboard. It was another homer surrendered by Johnson, and now the game was tied, 5-5!
Xavier Nady's 2-run HR tied the game
Shea Stadium began to shake as Nady rounded the bases...a result of the combination of noise and Mets' fans jumping up-and-down in celebration. Although the upper deck was safe-and-sound, there was a slight sense of fear that the 42-year-old structure would crumble at any minute.
As each team traded runs in the 4th and 5th innings to make it a 6-6 game, Mets' and Yankees' fans in the crowd traded chants and insults. It was an electric atmosphere, thanks to great expectations for both teams. Chants of "Let's go Yankees!" were immediately followed with a "Let's go Mets!" response.
The drama continued to build as the game remained tied
It remained a 6-6 ballgame as the two teams headed into the 9th inning. With the Yankees coming to bat, Mets' closer Billy Wagner came charging in from the bullpen.
Wagner's choice of entrance music added a spark to the already terse rivalry, as Metallica's "Enter Sandman" was typically used by Yankees' closer Mariano Rivera. While Mets' fans reveled in the moment, Yankees' fans passionately booed. They viewed Wagner as a pretender to the closers' throne, unworthy of such a musical selection.
Mets' closer Billy Wagner was pumped up for this game
Apparently fired up by the situation, Wagner was determined to prove them otherwise. Featuring a blazing fastball that approached 100 mph, Wagner blew through Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez and Kelly Stinnett with three consecutive strikeouts. The Mets' fans in the crowd high-fived and celebrated, while the Yankees' fans watched in stunned silence.
Heading into the bottom of the 9th inning, the aforementioned Rivera -- the greatest closer in Major League history -- made his presence. Armed with a 90+ mph cutter that he can spot at will, Rivera had amassed 391 saves at that point in his career. This was not a save situation, however. Yankees' manager Joe Torre was taking a calculated gamble...using Rivera to try and bring the game into extra innings.
Mariano Rivera pitches in the bottom of the 9th inning
As the top of the Mets' order came to bat, fans of both teams were standing at their seats. It was a taste of October in mid-May, as this game had developed a playoff atmosphere.
After a Jose Reyes pop out, Paul LoDuca doubled to left field...igniting the Shea Stadium crowd once again. The winning run was in scoring position, with the heart of the Mets' lineup coming up.
Rivera would temporarily douse the rally, striking out center fielder Carlos Beltran. The Yankees then decided to intentionally walk 1st baseman Carlos Delgado, bringing David Wright to the plate with 2 runners on base and 2 outs.
David Wright bats with the game on the line
Rivera and Wright would battle to a 2-2 count. Everyone in the crowd of 56,000+ was standing, watching and waiting. Rivera took his sign, went into the stretch and delivered his pitch. Wright swung, and lifted a high fly ball to deep center field. As he ran down the 1st base line, Wright began to hop up-and-down...hoping that the ball would evade any-and-all Yankee fielders.
Meanwhile, center fielder Johnny Damon was in a dead-sprint for the ball, running back toward the outfield fence. To every fan in the building, it felt like the ball hung in the sky forever. For Damon, however, it didn't stay up there long enough. The ball bounced off the middle of the warning track. LoDuca scored from 2nd base, and the Mets secured a dramatic 7-6 victory.
The Mets win in dramatic fashion!
As the entire Mets' dugout sprinted onto the field to celebrate, fireworks exploded overhead. The Shea Stadium seating area featured some mixed emotions. Mets' fans were deliriously happy...clapping, high-fiving and hugging. Yankees' fans, on the other hand, either slumped into their seats or quietly headed for the exits.
Haze from the celebratory fireworks hangs over Shea
History will dictate that no matter where the two New York teams are in the standings, the Mets will always be an underdog to the Yankees. That's why Subway Series victories taste that much sweeter for those who back the Flushing franchise. On this night, it was David (Wright) who had slain Goliath...ending one of the most memorable and dramatic games in Subway Series history.
A special night at Shea