Inside the Phillies: Phillies, Mets are hardly rivals
Sure, only a short drive on the N.J. Turnpike separates them, but they're miles apart in head-to-head play.
Several media outlets in recent years have tried to portray the Phillies and New York Mets as having one of the better rivalries in baseball.
This can only mean one thing: The people in charge there have lost their thesauruses, dictionaries and minds.
Rivalry? Phillies and Mets?
It could be. It should be. It is not.
There is no more reason for Phillies fans to get excited about Tuesday night's arrival of the Mets at Citizens Bank Park than there was to watch the Houston Astros, with five former Phillies on their roster, play here on the opening weekend.
Sure, there is a genuine disdain among the New York and Philadelphia fan bases, but that's true of any professional sports competition between the cities.
A rivalry, however, means that teams are fighting for a prize, and that has rarely been the case if you look at the history of the Phillies and Mets. In the 49 years since the Mets filled the New York void left by the California emigration of the Giants and Dodgers in 1962, they have had a heated competition with the Phillies for the National League East title exactly two times: 2007 and 2008.
The Mets did rival the 1964 Phillies with their monumental collapse in 2007 when they allowed a seven-game lead to slip away with 17 to play, triggering the Phillies' current run of four straight division titles and nightly home sellouts.
A year later, the teams staged another entertaining race to the wire with the Phillies erasing a 31/2-game deficit on Sept. 10 on their way to their second World Series title in franchise history.
Since then, the Phillies have had more of a rivalry with the Yankees than the Mets, losing to the storied New York franchise in the 2009 World Series before winning the Cliff Lee sweepstakes during the most recent offseason.
At this moment, the Phillies and Mets appear headed in polar opposite directions, a place they have been quite often since New York regained a National League team. The Phillies and Mets have had a winning record in the same season just seven times in 49 years.
And if the Phillies were the big National League winner in the offseason, the Mets were the undisputed losers.
While general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. put together a deal that convinced a willing Lee to return to Philadelphia, forming the Four Aces, the Mets owners - Fred and Jeff Wilpon and Saul Katz - were named in a lawsuit filed by the trustee trying to recover the massive amounts of money lost in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme.
The New York owners, according to a March New York Post report, had to borrow tens of millions of dollars in order to continue operating while they search for a minority partner who can infuse new money into the franchise. The lead to the Post story suggested the team change its name to the New York Debts.
The Mets have also been cursed by ill health. Ace Johan Santana underwent September shoulder surgery, and there is no exact timetable for his return. Given the history of major shoulder injuries, there is no guarantee that Santana will ever recover to his previous form. There is, however, $77.5 million guaranteed dollars still owed to the lefty through the 2014 season.
Jason Bay, who signed a four-year, $66 million contract before last season and then played in only 95 games because of injury, opened the year again on the disabled list, this time with a strained muscle in his rib cage. He expects to return this month, but not for this three-game series with the Phillies.
Outfielder Carlos Beltran, owed $18.5 million for the third straight season, did make it to the starting line after being reduced to 145 games by injury the previous two seasons. But there's no reason to believe he'll ever be a special player again.
Phillies backup catcher Brian Schneider has seen the Phillies-Mets dynamic - notice we did not call it a rivalry - from both clubhouses. He was with New York in 2008 and 2009 and the Phillies last season. What he noticed most about the place he's in now is that the chemistry is as special as the players inside the uniform.
"I don't know if it was a matter of chemistry" with the Mets' troubles, Schneider said. "I guess it was a little bit. That's why they brought in a bunch of new people there."
New York's most important offseason additions were general manager Sandy Alderson and manager Terry Collins. Alderson, a proven winner as a GM in Oakland and CEO in San Diego, will be charged with changing the roster. Collins, known for his no-nonsense personality, will try to change the team's on-field approach.
"I think those moves were important," Schneider said. "Those guys don't mess around. They're straight shooters. Whatever [Alderson] feels is necessary, I'm sure will get done."
The roster, approach and chemistry, according to Schneider, are perfect right now in Philadelphia.
"This is a clubhouse like no other I've ever seen before, regardless of where I have been," Schneider said. "This is a special clubhouse and a special group of guys. They have to keep this together as long as possible. I've never seen 25 guys stick together the way we did last year. It was amazing."
Both the Mets and Phillies had to deal with major injuries a year ago. The Mets crashed. The Phillies rose.
"There was never any turbulence in the clubhouse," Schneider said. "You're never going to be able to take care of business all the time on the field. You do your best. But whenever you came in here, everybody took care of each other and picked each other up, and when we made our run it wasn't one guy carrying the team. It was a bunch of guys helping out, and that's what baseball is all about."
Inside the Phillies:
Mets (Young, 0-0) at Phillies (Hamels, 0-0), Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. TV: PHL17
Mets-Phillies pitching matchups. D5.
Phillies TV ratings set record. D5
Kendrick's World Series ring stolen. D6.