Mets-Phillies rivalry still exciting
PHILADELPHIA - Heading into this past weekend's Phillies-Mets series, the former's expectations could have been compared to a ship seemingly under control seemingly unwavering through the final phase of a storm, while the Mets could be linked to the same ship seemingly mired rudderless in the height of the storm.
The two teams find themselves once again in familiar surroundings - the Phillies within the crest of Atlanta 1 1/2 games out of first and the Mets nearly bottomed out 8 1/2 games back.
Yet, the three-game series yielded as much excited and nervous tension throughout Citizens Bank Park as a playoff setting. Despite both teams' dispositions with the Phillies winning 14 of their last overall 17 games and the Mets dropping 13 of their last 17 road games, the three games once again proved there are still some extra juices flowing when both team met after their treks down the New Jersey Turnpike and I-95.
"It still is a special feeling when these teams get together," said Northampton native catcher Brian Schneider, who is in his first season with the Phillies after spending the previous two seasons with the Mets. "This is also special for me seeing that I grew up watching these teams and now having played for both.
"Everyone still gets up for beating them (Mets). It's great to see fans from both sides at the ballparks and that helps fuel everyone more."
There certainly wasn't any need for extra drama or firepower for either clubs over the past weekend. Every game kept the Citizens Bank Park sellout faithful engaged with three outstanding pitching matchups, the initial two games having featuring solid starts on both sides deep into the games.
For the Mets, lefthander Jonathan Niese twirled a gem over the first seven innings of Friday's game before his team's bullpen imploded in the eighth. Johan Santana flirted with a no- hitter through 5 innings and left with a 1-0 left after 7 . The lone blemish among the starters was R.A. Dickey, who was touched for five runs through just three innings, the first meltdown in quite some time for the apparent new stopper on the staff.
On the Phillies' end, Joe Blanton used only two runs in his outing Friday, Cole Hamels struck out 11 and was a hard-luck 1-0 lose in Saturday's game, and Roy Halladay notched 10 strikeouts and held on to a 6-5 victory with a save from Brad Lidge.
New York, which has still not won a road series this year, left Philly with a 2-4 road trip record after their previous stop in Atlanta, and they were faced with some heavy deficits to catch the Braves (9 games) as well as the Wildcard-leading San Francisco Giants (7).
"We came here knowing that this would be a difficult task being it was the Phillies," said Mets manager Jerry Manuel. "Both teams have said some things in the past and it is always a dogfight here. We just have to play well for the next 30 to 40 games, and I think we can do that.
"It's a great atmosphere because we have fans from both teams in both parks. Both teams wanted this series bad, but we came up short."
Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who has uttered more than few comments about the Phillies-Mets wars in the past, still has seen some extra energy generated when the two teams meet.
"We have our share of things to deal with this season," said Rollins, referring to the injuries to starters Chase Utley, Shane Victorino and Ryan Howard. "They (Mets) have also had their share of things to deal with.
"It is still something special to play them (Mets) regardless of where each team is in the standings. It's the closeness of the cities and the fans. But we have to concentrate on keeping everything on track."
Both teams will still have some chances to grab some bragging in the season's final two months. The Phillies will travel to New York this weekend and both teams have reciprocal series in September.
The Mets will visit the Phillies for their final homestand of the year - a possible crucial one in terms of the division or a wild card playoff - the 24th 25th and 26th of September.
"When you play teams in your division late in the year, you have to be on top of your games," added Rollins. "We have been there and so have they (Mets). It doesn't matter their positions, both us and the Mets will play these games hard."
And the beat goes on.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.