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06/27/08 8:11 PM ET

Mets take one major small step forward

Win over Yanks more than just about Subway Series supremacy

NEW YORK -- This festival of Big Apple baseball opened with something even more valuable than bragging rights at stake.

The day-night, Yankee Stadium/Shea Stadium doubleheader on Friday, the onset of Phase II of the 2008 Subway Series, features two clubs whose midseason scenarios were definitely uphill, but far from hopeless.

The Mets took the opener at Yankee Stadium, 15-6, thanks in large part to a Carlos Delgado revival of epic proportions. Delgado drove in a franchise-record nine runs, with a double and two home runs. His sixth-inning grand slam to right-center was a monumental blast both in importance and in the visual impression that it left as it soared high into the bleachers.

Beyond their neighboring-rival franchise status, these two clubs are in similar circumstances this season. The Yankees have a better record than the Mets, but over the long haul, a more difficult path to follow. The American League East is an even tougher neighborhood than usual. The Yankees' problems in this division have essentially been doubled. The Boston Red Sox are becoming used to the top spot by now, but the Tampa Bay Rays have moved beyond the surprising stage, directly into the good stage. They may not win anything major this season, but they will not evaporate. They have made the journey from patsies to contenders, and that change makes the Yankees' current third-place task that much tougher.

The Yankees could take considerable solace from the fact that, this drubbing aside, they had recently been playing some of their most consistent baseball of the season, winning eight of their last 12 and 13 of their last 20. The fact that the vast majority of those recent games had been against sub.-500 teams did not need to be a dampening factor.

The Mets, meanwhile, got back to .500 with Friday afternoon's Game 1 victory. For the moment, they were just three games back of the Phillies in the National League East.

In the last two weeks, while they have compiled a modest 8-5 record, the Mets have gained 4 1/2 games on the first-place but slumping Phillies. The question of whether the Mets would put it all together under new manager Jerry Manuel is still open -- they are 5-4 under Manuel.

In any case, for all the gnashing of teeth that has accompanied the first three months of this season for the Mets, their overall situation, like their overall record, is middling.

The Subway Series is always a celebration of intensity, but it's going to be a dual-purpose for the Mets.

"I think one good thing about these series for me is that it gives me a real good chance to evaluate how my players respond to that type of atmosphere, because that's as close as you can get midseason to a playoff-style atmosphere," Manuel said.

Based on this game, Delgado, although he has been widely blamed for his role in the Mets' underachievement to date, would be ideally suited for any highly pressurized situation. Earlier in the day, Manuel had referred to Delgado as "somewhat of an enigma to me," and everyone understood what he meant. But on this afternoon at least, Delgado moved from enigma back to the much more comfortable designations of slugger and first-class run-producer.

"I got lucky," Delgado said with more than enough modesty. "Every time, I came up there were a lot of guys on base."

Right, and most of the when he got through, there was nobody left on base. Of the ritual booing he has received at Shea Stadium, Delgado said he "getting used to it," although he acknowledged that no player would like it.

"The only thing I can do is go out and play better," Delgado said. Nine RBIs should qualify.

Beyond this personal triumph, the Mets as a group achieved a small, but still notable historical breakthrough with this victory. The Yankees and Mets have played two of these day-night, two-stadium doubleheaders before; one in 2000 and another in '03. The Yankees had won all four previous games.

And for the current bragging rights, this victory made the Mets 3-0 against the Yankees this season, assuring no worse than a split in the 2008 Subway Series. But for the purposes of the larger season, it was an impressive victory over an opponent with a winning record, exactly the kind of thing that brought the Mets' reality a bit closer to their aspirations.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.