For Subway Series, expect unexpected
Yanks' dominance against NL includes a few wild victories
NEW YORK -- For all of the magic that the Yankees enjoyed with their Major League-best string of walk-off victories last season, one of the most memorable came on a stroke of luck that was simply Amazin'.
The date was June 12, during the Subway Series opener against the Mets, and Alex Rodriguez had flung his bat in disgust after popping up for what he thought -- and everyone at Yankee Stadium thought -- would be the game-ending play.
The ball found the glove of second baseman Luis Castillo in shallow right field ... and then inexplicably popped out, falling safely to the grass. Mark Teixeira never broke stride, charging around the bases the way he'd been taught in Little League, scoring the winning run in a 9-8 Yankees victory.
It was one of the most unbelievable endings in a Subway Series rivalry that dates back to its first steps in June 1997 at the old Yankee Stadium and hit a crescendo with a World Series won by the Yankees a decade ago. Now, it gets set to command the streets all over again on Friday.
"I think you know that it's on your schedule," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "The schedule comes out in the winter, and it's a big thing for this city. I think our guys get excited to play. There were exciting games last year, and the place was jumping up and down."
The Yankees went 5-1 against the Mets last season in another of their home-and-home splits, which they'll begin to reprise with their second trip to Citi Field -- standing just a shallow fly ball from where Bernie Williams caught the final out of that 2000 Fall Classic at old Shea Stadium.
It's a trip across the Robert F. Kennedy (formerly Triboro) Bridge that the Yankees have relished in the past. They have won six of their past seven games in Queens, and the Mets could provide something of a tonic to help shrug off a disappointing homestand that saw the Yanks split two games against the Red Sox and lose both to the Rays.
"It's just another game, man," outfielder Nick Swisher said. "If you look at the schedule, we've got four full months [left] and a couple of weeks. I think that if you put so much pressure on one series against the Mets -- it'll be fun, no doubt about it; the place is going to be electric -- but we're really just worried about putting some more W's on the board."
Baseball's all-time leaders in Interleague wins (133-95) and winning percentage (.583), the Yankees have gone 10-8 against the National League in each of the past four years and have 12 straight non-losing seasons of Interleague Play.
With the weekend series against the Mets serving as a May teaser, the Yankees will host the Astros, Phillies and Mets again in June before heading off to complete Interleague Play with road series against the D-backs and Dodgers.
YANKS TAKE ON NL
"Our objective going into the series is like any other series," A-Rod said. "It's to win the series and play good, fundamental Yankees baseball -- not try to do too much. We're 25 guys here, and everybody's got to try to do their part."
It all starts with the ball in the right hand of Javier Vazquez, who finished fourth in NL Cy Young Award voting last year in the employ of the Braves and could relish this opportunity.
Vazquez beamed on Thursday when asked about the prospect of getting to hit once again during a game.
"I love hitting, man -- I miss it," Vazquez said. "I grew up in the National League, and I've always liked that style of game, because I get the opportunity to not just pitch but maybe help the team and help myself with the bat."
The Yankees would love to see those positive vibes carry over to the rest of Vazquez's demeanor.
"[Friday] is a situation that he's more familiar with recently, because he's been in the NL and had success last year," Girardi said. "Being an Atlanta Brave, you're going to play the Mets a bunch of times, because you're in the same division and you've seen a lot of those hitters."
Vazquez will be opposed by left-hander Hisanori Takahashi in series opener.
On Saturday, Phil Hughes will try to put his impressive season back on track against Mike Pelfrey in a matchup of hard-throwing righties, and a pair of lefty aces will go on Sunday night, when CC Sabathia and Johan Santana take the mound.
The Yankees' biggest concern for all three pitchers has nothing to do with what the Mets might do to them. After watching Chien-Ming Wang derail his promising career while running the bases in Houston in 2008, the Yanks will go into the weekend with fingers crossed.
"Sometimes, even when I was a National League manager, I felt like it was a catch-22 when a pitcher got on," Girardi said. "You want them to get on and get hits, but you don't want him scoring from first on a double and feeling like he's worn out for a few pitches the next inning. That could be the difference in the game."
The uniqueness of it all may have dulled somewhat in the 72 regular-season games since Yankees manager Joe Torre shook hands with Mets counterpart Bobby Valentine behind a Bronx batting cage in the summer of 1997. But the underlying theme of the Subway Series still rings true.
Bragging rights are at stake -- not only on the field, but also in the stands and on the city streets. And whether the games are played in Queens or the Bronx, whether the choice of transit is a MetroCard or an E-ZPass, regardless of how many players shrug it off as "just another game," the truth is that no one wants to lose to the team across town.
"I've said all along that we all want to be able to walk around the city and not necessarily hear about it," Girardi said. "I think it is a big deal for our players. In this league, every game is important, because we're in an extremely tough division."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.