The Mets were coming off an appearance in the 2015 World Series, and they were still a championship contender on paper. They featured a young starting rotation that was arguably the best in the majors and were a few months away from re-signing Yoenis Cespedes, their most dangerous hitter. The Yankees? They seemed to be treading in place, a boring team safely out of contention and saddled with a roster of overpaid veterans well past their prime.
But as the two clubs prepared to start a four-game Subway Series this week — two games in the Bronx on Monday and Tuesday, followed by two in Queens — the traditional pecking order has been restored, cruelly depriving the Mets, their owners and their fans of a long-sought spotlight.
Despite some tough times of late, including a 3-2 loss in 10 innings to Boston on Sunday night, the Yankees still held a two-game buffer over Minnesota in the American League wild-card race entering Monday. The Mets, on the other hand, were hobbling toward the finish line, their narrative lost, reduced once again to the role of playoffs spoiler instead of postseason contender.
“The only talk of the Mets taking over the town came from Mets fans, the same people that celebrate their upcoming championship when they win two in a row in April,” said Marc Chalpin, a self-described Bleacher Creature in the right-field stands at Yankee Stadium. “They should try winning something in a 30-year window.”
Chalpin added: “Just because they say something doesn’t make it true. It’s what I call Yankee envy.”
Attendance figures this season support such boastfulness. The Mets are averaging crowds of 31,849, a figure that ranks 11th in the majors, but one that is bound to decrease as the club slogs through more than a dozen largely meaningless home games in September. In 2016, the Mets stood ninth at 34,870, having made steady progress over the course of four seasons while approaching the 38,941 average they enjoyed when Citi Field first opened in 2009.
Meanwhile, the Yankees have reversed a slow decline since 2010, their peak season at the new stadium. That year, as defending World Series champions, they averaged 46,491 fans. By 2016, the Yanks had slipped to sixth in attendance over all, at 37,819. This year, according to ESPN.com figures, they are averaging 40,462 fans through 54 games. And that number could rise as playoff possibilities drive ticket sales down the stretch.
Last year, the attendance gap between the Yanks and the Mets was fewer than 3,000 fans per game. This season, that difference has nearly tripled — to 8,000 fans a game, and it is climbing.
Even a brief TV ratings bubble has burst. Last season, the Mets also outdrew the Yankees on television for the first time. According to SNY, the Mets’ cable host, Mets games averaged nearly 264,000 viewers in 2016, compared with 218,000 for the Yankees. But that trend, too, has been reversed; in June, Nielsen reported a 50 percent increase in Yankee viewership over the first two months of this season.
There are several factors in the Yankees’ revival and the Mets’ slump. The early-season emergence of Aaron Judge as a Ruthian figure gave the Yankees one of the best marketing tools in recent memory. When the team was able to complement him with young players like Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino, it quickly altered the overall image of the franchise.
The Mets are belatedly attempting to remake themselves in a similar way, with the top prospects Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith now added to the lineup. A true face-lift will be daunting, though; that elite starting rotation has fallen apart because of injuries, and the Mets essentially have been out of both the National League East and wild-card races since the end of May.
Judge has allowed the Yankees to segue from the departure of Derek Jeter in 2014, while the Mets have yet to find a popular replacement for David Wright. Both clubs have had numerous injuries, but the Mets have become something of a sad cartoon in that regard. Cespedes, in particular, has been in and out of the lineup frequently this season and last.
Nevertheless, the Mets might be able to inflict some real damage on their cross-borough rivals this week. In 2013, the Mets swept four games from the Yankees, blunting the Bombers’ 30-18 start, and were at least partly responsible for dooming a promising Yankees season. This week, they are positioned to deal a blow to any playoff hopes in the Bronx.
This has been an enervating week for the Yankees, who are facing the Red Sox and the Mets (and then the Red Sox again) in successive series. Even though the rivalries are not as raw as they once were, just the sight of the uniforms still evokes a certain sense of urgency.
“We’re usually not in a rivalry week for 10 days,” Yankees Manager Joe Girardi said. “But somehow we found a way to do it this year.”
There was a time when George Steinbrenner would consider every game against the Mets a border war of top priority. His absence has eliminated certain organizational imperatives, and last week Girardi and his players said they still consider Boston the greater rival.
“When George was around, he might have been more vocal, but we understand the importance,” Girardi said of games against the Mets. “For us, in the standings, it’s important. There will be a ton of excitement in both stadiums.”
Published at Tue, 15 Aug 2017 02:32:39 +0000