For the first time in forever, the New York Mets do not need to ask their fan base to wait until next year. Finally, after repeatedly beating down their paying customers with bad baseball and worse business practices, the Mets have the city for the taking.
They are better than the New York Yankees, and it's no more complicated than that. The Mets just completed their first 10-0 homestand with a sweep of Atlanta, an old NL East haunt. They have taken 11 consecutive games, just the way they did when they won it all in 1986 and 1969, and they own the best record in the sport at 13-3.
Their Gold Glove center fielder, Juan Lagares, made an over-the-head catch out of the Willie Mays playbook Wednesday night, and their 41-year-old starter, Bartolo Colon, completed an unassisted pickoff play Thursday by moving his 5-foot-11, 285-pound body in a Refrigerator Perry way.
Never mind that old man Colon is 4-0. The Mets have a team built around young pitching -- really good young pitching -- which is another way of saying they have a team built to last.
It's time for them to grab the Big Apple by the Adam's apple and hold on tight for the next five years or so. The Yankees are on a bit of a roll themselves entering Friday night's opener of the three-game Subway Series in the Bronx, so it isn't as if they're conceding that they'll miss the playoffs for a third consecutive year or the post-Jeter era will look uglier than the post-Mantle era.
But it's true that age, injury, retirement and the ability of competing franchises to keep stars from free agency have conspired against the Yankees and left them vulnerable on an unlikely front. How unlikely? The Mets have been dominated by their big brothers like no other major sport team in the market has been dominated.
Let's use Jan. 1, 1990, as a starting point. That gives us a quarter-century of intramural competition to gauge. Over that period, the Knicks reached the playoffs 16 times and lost twice in the Finals, and the Nets of Brooklyn and New Jersey reached the playoffs 13 times and also lost twice in the Finals.
The Giants made 10 appearances in the postseason and four in the Super Bowl, with three of them ending in victory, and the Jets made eight appearances in the postseason, including three losing trips to the AFC Championship Game.
The Devils reached the Stanley Cup finals five times, won three of them and own a 20-16 advantage over the Rangers in playoff appearances since '90 (though the Rangers took four of six series from New Jersey, including the epic 1994 conference final en route to their drought-busting Cup) and a 20-9 advantage over the Islanders, who are 0-2 in series against the Rangers and haven't reached a conference final since 1993.
The Yankees made 17 trips to the postseason since '90, seven trips to the World Series and five trips to ticker-tape parades, including one in 2000 at the expense of the Mets, who advanced to the postseason a mere three times. The Yanks were also robbed of another likely playoff berth by the players' strike in 1994. They were 70-43 and strong enough to embolden their manager, Buck Showalter, to say they would've won the whole thing; the Mets were 55-58 and in the middle of six straight losing seasons.
Upon further review, you could argue the Islanders have been the most overwhelmed team in the market over the past 25 years, given the Mets' edge in World Series/Stanley Cup finals appearances (1-0) and conference finals/league championship series appearances (3-1) and given how much easier it has been to reach the playoffs in the NHL than in MLB. But as much as the Rangers and Islanders are commanding the metropolitan area's attention right now, New York at its core is a baseball town.
This is how Mets manager Terry Collins put it Thursday in his postgame news conference as he assessed the weekend series: "The Yankees are playing great, we're playing good, it should be a lot of fun, and I think we've hopefully created some excitement. It's baseball season. You can say what you want, hockey is big, I know basketball is big. [But] the northeast is baseball country. This is where this game started. This is where this game will always be. There's no better fans to play in front of than the fans in the northeast. They're just wrapped up in it."
More often than not, the Mets have been an embarrassing on-the-field and off-the-field baseball product in this baseball town and region, when measured against the neighboring team defined by its champagne celebrations and first-ballot Hall of Famers.
The Yankees aren't going to make it easy for the Mets -- count on that. By treating the old Mayor's Trophy games and subsequent interleague matchups as apocalyptic events, George Steinbrenner created a culture of extreme urgency when it came to the Mets. Long before a pipe burst in the Yanks' Shea Stadium clubhouse during Game 4 of the 2000 World Series, leaving Steinbrenner to suggest the flood was by design, the Boss had his employees on edge like never before.
Joe Torre had already won three titles in the previous four years, yet he was terrified of losing that World Series. So was general manager Brian Cashman.
"The Boss told me, 'You'd better win -- or else,'" Cashman would say years later. "I felt like if we lost to the Mets, it would've diminished our three championships. It would've been like they didn't count. I was always proud of what we'd done, and I'd never before been scared of losing. But I was scared of losing to the Mets."
If Steinbrenner's sons don't inspire the same fear in their staff and players, they still don't want to be the ownership group that loses control of the city to the Wilpons, who are just now staggering to their feet after the Bernie Madoff scandal. The Mets don't spend half of what the Yankees spend on players, yet for a change, they dress the one New York player (Matt Harvey) most likely to remain a megastar into the next decade.
"We've got good pitchers with Colon and [Jacob] deGrom, but there's something special about Matt," Mets executive J.P. Ricciardi said recently. "I think the fans live a little vicariously through him because he has a little of that old Clyde Frazier, Joe Namath lifestyle, but he competes like crazy, shows up to work every day and wants to be great."
Speaking last week before Harvey's first start at Citi Field -- and before the Yankees got hot -- Ricciardi said this of the opening the Mets have in New York: "The Yankees were on top for a long time, and they had a really good run. I wouldn't count them out yet, but you've got to take advantage of your opportunities, especially in such a competitive town like this one. It's not like you get these opportunities all the time."
The Mets had an opportunity in the 2000 World Series, and they lost the only all-New York City championship staged since the Yankees beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956. This time around, hey, it's only April. It's only the sixth series of the season for both teams, with 146 games to play.
But the Mets shouldn't wait any longer to drop the same anvil on the Yankees that always has been dropped on them. Derek Jeter, who owned the Mets as much as the Wilpons, is going, going, gone, and it will be years before blue-chip prospects Greg Bird and Aaron Judge prove they're worth half a Jeter or even half a Bernie Williams, who is finally signing his retirement papers Friday, before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.
It's time for the Mets to act. Time for them to retire Bernie's Yankees right along with Bernie.