Rivals! In baseball, they can come from anywhere. Typically, it’s supposed to be the teams that are in the same division. But you never know when some foreign entity is going to stop by, stir up a hornets nest over a weekend series, and have you circling the date you visit their park in three months. Also, sometimes a rival can just be, like, a dumb-ass squirrel, or something.
But in MLB, there’s obviously no more yammered-on about match-up than the Yankees and Red Sox, and this year, their overplayed, overblown contests are more inflated with self-importance than ever. Not only are they enjoying a resurgence of their rivalry, but they are probably the two best teams in baseball at the moment. Not that this matters; MLB and all of the outlets that cover it treat every half-day Yankees-Red Sox slog as a religious experience, regardless of their records. Nevertheless, the two storied enemies are currently enjoying divisional encounters the way they are meant to be played: with pure, raw-blooded antagonism, at each other’s throats with well-matched players and young, ravenous cores.
Did it hurt to write that? Yes. Because the Phillies have a New York rival of their own in-division: the Mets. And yes, go ahead and fill the comment section with “...I actually prefer hating the Braves!” or something, because right now, actually, it’s much easier to hate the Braves than the Mets. But in my opinion, the default antagonist of the Phillies in the NL East is and has always been New York.
The problem is, they’ve so rarely aligned as true competitors, it’s a difficult one to take seriously. Barring 2007-08, they’ve rarely battled like two weasels in a sack down the stretch, snarling and biting in ways that animal experts would tell me weasels do not do. The last few years, during which the Phillies have tried to rebuild uphill and the Mets have visited the World Series, have been no exception.
END THIS NONSENSE: Mets have feasted at Citizens Bank Park the last two-plus seasons, 21-6. Time to end this nonsense, trust the process, BeBold— Larry Shenk (@ShenkLarry) May 11, 2018
While the Phillies ran the show from 2007-11, the Mets fell ass-backwards into relevance again for two or three years there, thanks to that pitching staff that we will never see in one piece (or uniform) again. Starting this season 11-1, things seemed dangerously good for the Metropolitans as the Phillies watched Gabe Kapler set lineup after lineup by tossing a handful of multi-colored pebbles into a sandbox in his office. Fortunes, as they tend to do early in the season, seem to have reversed of late, with the Phillies sweeping the Giants in four games and the Mets, I mean, dear god; I don’t have a tight grasp on the events of the last few weeks, but it seems like they hit out of order against the Reds and then as punishment had to give them Matt Harvey? Which is really more of a punishment for the Reds?
In any case, the Mets are dragging their sad, sluggish forms into Philadelphia this weekend, leaving a trail of drool and tears behind them. It’s presumptuous to think this guarantees the Phillies a patch of luck, what with their recent momentum and all, but at the very least, you’d hope they’d be able to halt the Mets’ recent string of good fortune in Citizens Bank Park. I mean, 21-6?! That is absurdly insulting to the home team.
Here are some of the worst moments from that stretch of time:
April 19, 2016: Mets 11, Phillies 1
It’s April 19. Got a minute? Heh heh heh.
The Mets certainly had a minute to wallop the Phillies on this particularly god awful Tuesday evening. Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Conforto, and Neil Walker roared at the Phillies all night while the Phillies managed to get in a peep at the end in an 11-1 loss. When Cameron Rupp and Andres Blanco are keying your offense, you can’t have high hopes for the output, especially when Emmanuel Burriss, Peter Bourjos, and Tyler Goeddel are also getting at-bats—but at least they didn’t start. David Lough was in the starting nine for the Phillies, and he remained David Lough for the entire evening.
Last night’s winner and Giants-sweeper, Vince Velasquez, took the lion’s share of the pounding, but Brett Oberholzter, who was Not Good, allowed back-to-back jacks to Walker and Lucas Duda as drinkers across the Delaware Valley asked for the bartender to see what else was on.
July 17, 2016: Mets 5, Phillies 0
Jacob deGrom: 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 H, 7 SO, 9 IP.
Zach Eflin made this not a no-hitter with a weak ground ball that managed to get past deGrom’s middle infielders. deGrom noted the base runner, digested his fury, and became more powerful as a result.
September 30, 2016: Mets 5, Phillies 1
The Phillies, gasping for breath in the season’s final days, looked to finish out their extremely not fun year with a sweep of the far superior Mets. Would this have an impact on anyone except the 12 people watching? No, and not even them, really. Also, the Phillies’ plan for a sweep came to an abrupt end when they lost the first two games.
This was the series opener, and having Alec Asher on the mound did little to quell the nerves of whatever poor, lost souls were tuning in. He did last six innings, getting dinged by a singles barrage in the fourth, and was actually sent back out for the seventh, but Jay Bruce greeted him with a monster of a bomb and Asher was yanked out of the game and put into witness protection.
In the least exciting RBI of all time, the Phillies’ single run came in the second inning on a Cameron Rupp sac fly.
Season ticket holders raced to their phones to re-up.
April 11, 2017: Mets 14, Phillies 4
In the top of the seventh, Joely Rodriguez allowed a two-out double to Yoenis Cespedes, but induced a Jay Bruce fly out to end the inning after a pair of strikeouts.
It was the only inning in which the Mets did not score.
Where to begin? Matt Harvey was good (though he only lasted 5.2 innings), Joe West was calling balls and strikes, Asdrubal Cabrera, Lucas Duda, and Cespedes all had four hits apiece, with Cespedes feeling particularly squirrely and hitting three home runs, one off Clay Buchholz (2.1 IP) and two off Adam Morgan. The Mets, as a team, hit six home runs and 13 extra base hits. It was early in the season, but every Phillies pitcher in this game left with an ERA over 10.00.
Also with an ERA over 10.00? Paul Sewald, who closed out the game for the Mets. He allowed a hit and a walk that the Phillies couldn’t convert into a fun garbage time run. His ERA went DOWN to 13.50.
August 10, 2017: Mets 10, Phillies 0
deGrom, again. Only 5.2 innings of him this time, mercifully. Though he did manage to strike out nine Phillies in that time. Paul Sewald shut things down again in the ninth, with his ERA down to a nice, fresh 4.18.
Vince Velasquez managed 32 pitches and a single inning before Pete Mackanin signaled for a retreat, but give credit where it’s due: Mark Leiter came on and threw five innings of relief, striking out seven and giving up only one earned run. That meant the Mets had to pack their overzealous offense in around him: A three-run Wilmer Flores shot in the first. An equally three-run Michael Conforto blast in the seventh. And just a real mess of a ninth in which Luis Garcis got trampled by singles and walks and a two-run Curtis Granderson home run because who even cares.
August 11, 2017: Mets 7, Phillies 6
The next night, with a starting lineup getting closer to real life—this one included Rhys Hoskins, Odubel Herrera, Maikel Franco, Jorge Alfaro, Nick Williams, Cesar Hernandez, and Nick Pivetta (Hernandez, Herrera, and Williams had multi-hit games)—the Phillies managed to battle the Mets to the end, instead of limply falling down and imagining they were doing anything else.
Cesar Hernandez tied the game at 6-6 with a home run in the eighth before Amed Rosario re-untied it with a home run in the ninth. Hyun Soo-Kim entered the game as a pinch hitter the next inning and did not win the game for any reason.
October 1, 2017: Phillies 11, Mets 0
We’re going to end, as the Phillies did in 2017, on a high note.
Baseball is rich with narratives. Many of them go nowhere: Darin Ruf chasing the Eastern League Triple Crown, Tommy Joseph and Brock Stassi forcing themselves onto big league rosters after insurmountable odds against them, Tyler Goeddel attempting to become the Phillies’ next Rule 5 success story.
But when the Phillies trounced the Mets at Citizens Bank Park to close out the 2017 season, with its front-end heavy with frustration and its back-end light with hope, it was easy to take it as a message: The next Phillies will be different.
Maybe it was the Nick Williams inside-the-park home run, Maikel Franco mashing, Nick Pivetta reaching base on an error to keep a rally alive, Odubel Herrera’s ground-rule double, shutout appearances for Pivetta, Hoby Milner, Yacksel Rios, and Victor Arano, the pathetic, downtrodden Mets who trudged off the field that day, or the Phillies’ .500 record in the season’s second half.
But for everyone watching, that win sent a clear message: When the April sun next rose on Citizens Bank Park, things would be different. Better. Funner. And as the Mets come to town with their hallowed rotation in shreds and their lineup cards written incorrectly as the Phillies battle for first place in the NL East, it’s hard to not to be vindicated by their success.