Mets-Dodgers series steeped in history
Club that left Brooklyn comes to Queens to open postseason
NEW YORK -- The ghosts will stir to life in the shadow of Ebbets Field, and echoes of the past will reverberate under the La Guardia flight patterns.Welcome to this corner of the National League Division Series, matching the Mets and Dodgers in a cross-country and cross-generational tussle that will fire up passions on both coasts. Take your time, stoke those passions for a couple of days: This Series won't get underway until Wednesday, a 4 p.m. ET game at Shea Stadium followed by Game 2 on Thursday night at 8 p.m. It should also appeal to souls in between. This series is the crème de la postseason crème. The Dodgers enter with seven consecutive wins and the Mets with four straight, flashing back to their dominant persona after a post-clinching tailspin. It will be a religious event in Flushing, invoking the memories of not only Mookie and Lenny -- who led the Mets to their last World Series championship in 1986 -- but also of Duke and Pee Wee -- part of the Dodgers who left Brooklyn for Los Angeles in 1958. Yes, in certain Flatbush taverns, they still mourn that day. So, in New York, for 48 years every Dodgers appearance has had a little extra edge. The teams drew 196,484 to Shea for a four-game series they split from Sept. 7-10; earlier, the Mets had taken two out of three in Los Angeles. That edge was particularly razor sharp in their only postseason meeting, in the 1988 NL Championship Series, when the Dodgers survived the Mets in seven games on the way to their last World Series title. And now they reunite, with a common goal, having traveled starkly different paths. The time, the place: That's been the season-long theme of a Mets team that spent all but one of the season's 181 days atop the NL East. The time, the pace: That should have been the Dodgers' theme; from July 26, when they stood 47-55, they closed 41-19 to tie San Diego atop the NL West; only a tiebreaker turned them into Wild Cards.
And while the Mets are the products of a carefully planned and relentlessly executed two-year agenda -- the signings of Carlos Beltran, Pedro Martinez and Billy Wagner and the trade for Carlos Delgado meshing with the emerging stardom of David Wright and Jose Reyes -- the Dodgers winged it.At the start of the season, Eric Gagne, Danys Baez, Jae Seo, Lance Carter, Odalis Perez, Yhency Brazoban, Bill Mueller, Dioner Navarro, Jose Cruz Jr., Sandy Alomar and Cesar Izturis were all central characters in Los Angeles. By the start of September, their giant murals on the sides of Dodger Stadium had been replaced by those of Greg Maddux, Andre Ethier, Russell Martin, Julio Lugo, Hong-Chih Kuo, Takashi Saito, Marlon Anderson and Wilson Betemit.
Leave it to a team under the Hollywood sign to have a veritable cattle call."More than any team I've been on," said Dodgers second baseman Jeff Kent, who is on his sixth team and, yes, first gained prominence with the Mets of the early '90s, "you can point your finger at everybody from the owner to the batboy, and everyone was a factor in helping us get here. Everybody did something, and that's cool." To get here, the Mets had to overcome years as a ridiculed laughingstock, eclipsed in baseball by the rest of the NL East and in New York by the dynastic Yankees. In the five seasons following their appearance in the 2000 Subway Series, the Mets lost 431 games and were a collective 99 games away from first place. So it has been a dramatic and dramatically swift turnaround under general manager Omar Minaya, whose makeover began with equally responsible manager Willie Randolph. And none of it means anything yet. Not at this time. Not in this town. "There's a whole lot more that we want to accomplish," Minaya has said repeatedly. "We understand what we did this year was pretty special," said Wright, the Mets' third baseman and first citizen. "We want to win a World Series and put a ring on our fingers. Nothing else is going to satisfy us." Conversely, the Dodgers became instant laughingstocks last fall, one season removed from a division championship, when general manager Paul DePodesta was dismissed 26 days following his own dismissal of manager Jim Tracy. The Dodgers were perceived as hapless and clueless under the ownership of Frank and Jamie McCourt. New GM Ned Colletti didn't come on board until mid-November, and the handicap only appeared to grow when he didn't have a manager until the middle of the Winter Meetings, when he unveiled Grady Little -- and only after being rejected by men at the top of his list. The fog actually lasted well into the second half of the season.
"I can't say there weren't a few days I wondered when we'd pull out of it," Colletti said. "What we saw was how bad they wanted to be great."And none of it means anything yet. Not to a team that has lost nine of its last 10 postseason games. "Being a champion is what is important," Kent reminded. They have arrived here, but hardly whole and hearty. The Mets, in addition to dealing with the well-chronicled loss of Pedro Martinez, are keeping a close eye on Cliff Floyd's left ankle and hope several days' rest healed Beltran's list of bumps and bruises. Little, who once managed the Red Sox, now manages the Red Cross. Nomar Garciaparra nurses various injuries, none more debilitating or arresting than his strained oblique muscle. Brad Penny's status as Game 3 starter hinges on his tight back. But you know what they say about someone in a euphoric state: "He's feeling no pain now." That goes for the participants in a Division Series that could fittingly be subtitled "Roots." They are all over the place. Minaya, a native of Queens, and Randolph, a son of Brooklyn streets, brought the Mets back onto the big stage. The McCourts are part of the Eastern establishment, and their strong Boston ties had frequently drawn the snide ridicule of West Coast media. Of course, the McCourts' ties to Boston are of a business nature. Little is woven into the quilt of Boston's baseball history for a decision in this town during the 2003 AL Championship Series. It was a decision which ultimately led to his dismissal as the manager of the Red Sox. On his way out of Boston, Little, resenting his treatment by that snake-bitten town, called over his shoulder, "Just add one more ghost to the list." Little's ghost has come to the right place. He'll have lots of company.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.