Zack Wheeler came to the majors with the New York Mets. He turned into an ace with the Phillies. Since 2013, he has started 23 games between the National League East foes and experienced it from the perspective of both sides of the Jersey Turnpike.

And yet ...

“I didn’t really see it as a rivalry,” said Wheeler, seated in the Phillies’ dugout before Sunday’s game. “Just from hearing fans and stuff, I know they kind of take it that way. But me personally, I never really did.”

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It’s no wonder. The Phillies and Mets are almost never good at the same time. In 60 years as coexisting major-league franchises, they have had eight — count ‘em, eight! — mutual winning seasons, none since 2008. Wheeler was still in high school in Georgia then.

Phillies-Mets should be everything that Yankees-Red Sox, Dodgers-Giants, and Cardinals-Cubs are for Major League Baseball. If only they finished first and second, in some order, more than four times, including in 1986 when the Mets won the division by 21½ games over the Phillies.

Save for those three glorious seasons — 2006 to 2008 — when Jimmy Rollins dissed the Mets, Paul Lo Duca insulted the Phillies, and the stars aligned, the teams have existed more as neighbors separated by 112 miles of interstate, their rivalry just sitting there like a dormant volcano.

But that may all be about to change. The Mets, in town for three games beginning Monday night, are bankrolled by hedge-fund billionaire owner Steve Cohen, who flexed his wallet in the offseason by hiring star manager Buck Showalter and dropping $258.5 million on five free agents, including future Hall of Fame ace Max Scherzer. In turn, Phillies owner John Middleton pushed past the luxury-tax threshold for the first time in franchise history by signing Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos for a total of $179 million.

The Mets’ luxury-tax payroll stands at approximately $286 million, second-highest behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Phillies rank fifth at roughly $237 million. Money doesn’t buy championships, but it should help juice this otherwise natural feud. Because if the Phillies and Mets aren’t both in contention this season, well, something will have gone terribly wrong.

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And that should only make baseball more fun in our little corridor of I-95.

“I think it is good,” Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins said. “There’s always going to be teams that go the other way. But when you can accumulate as many good players as you can, you create good teams. When you create good teams, you create good competition. That’s what fans want. That’s what’s best for the game. You get the best players on the field and you get exciting things. That’s what we’re all about, right?”

Hoskins has been part of Phillies-Mets since 2017, even finding himself at the center of a beanball escapade in 2019 when he objected to a pitch thrown near his head by New York reliever Jacob Rhame and subsequently circled the bases in super-slo-mo after taking Rhame deep one night later.

But Hoskins said it wasn’t until last August when he finally felt the rivalry begin to percolate. The Mets came to Citizens Bank Park with a one-game lead over the Phillies in the NL East and got swept by a combined score of 12-5. Wheeler punctuated the series with a two-hit shutout. Total attendance for the three games: 106,349.

“It feels like we’re going to have a lot more of those types of series this year with them just because of the players on each team,” Hoskins said. “We’re just better. Who doesn’t love a rivalry, right?”

Nobody. But especially anyone who lived through 2007, when Rollins declared the Phillies were the “team to beat” in the NL East and they famously roared back from seven games out of first place to overtake the swooning Mets in the final 17 games of the season.

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“See, that was kind of before me,” said Wheeler, who has heard all about it from both sides. “With the atmosphere here and the atmosphere there, it’s always a fun game. I have fun with it because it’s facing my old team. But I never really saw it as a rivalry. I never experienced it that way.”

It’s time. There was hope last year, when the Mets traded for star shortstop Francisco Lindor and signed him to a $341 million contract extension. There were other subplots, too, such as Wheeler moving from the Mets to the Phillies in free agency and the Mets opting not to bid for catcher J.T. Realmuto before he re-signed with the Phillies. And there were big names on both sides.

But the Mets fizzled in August, the Phillies were mostly a .500 team, and the Atlanta Braves surged past both of them en route to winning the World Series.

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Hoskins admits he kept a close eye on the Mets in the offseason because “it was hard not to.” Cohen dominated the conversation before the 99-day lockout and during it. Several of his fellow owners, fearful of his ability to keep spending, pushed for an additional tier in the luxury-tax structure — a “Cohen Tax,” if you will — to penalize teams that spend more than $290 million.

“They just went and spent a bunch of money, which, hey, they got better,” Hoskins said. “So yeah, you’re always thinking, how are we going to stack up? Because the goal is to win the division. That’s always the goal.”

Said Wheeler: “They spent money, and they got some good players doing that. I think we got great players doing that. And I think it should be fun for the next few years. I look forward to it.”

The rivalry may even be ripe for a rare eruption.

Cross your fingers.