NEW YORK -- Not long after the Mets put the finishing touches on a perfect 10-game homestand at Citi Field, the NHL's Islanders began a critical Game 5 of their playoff series in Washington. Matt Harvey's beloved New York Rangers are set to play Friday. Gotham's sports scene has rarely held such sheen in this century.
And still there is a sense around the city that on the final weekend of April, with spring's chill lingering, baseball should supersede it all. The Mets are playing at least as well as at any point over the last decade, if not the last quarter-century. The Yankees, almost quietly, are nearly as hot.
So when those interborough rivals collide Friday night at Yankee Stadium, there is no questioning what sort of town New York promises to be. Fans can watch the matchup on MLB Network, which will feature Statcast, a new state-of-the-art tracking technology capable of gathering and displaying previously immeasurable aspects of the game. The game is available to watch on MLB.TV.
"It's baseball season," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "You can say what you want -- hockey's big, I know basketball's big -- but the Northeast is baseball country. This is where this game started. This is where this game will always be. There are no better fans to play in front of than the fans in the Northeast. They're just wrapped up in it."
Since the Yankees became hyper-competitive in the mid-1990s, winning four titles shortly thereafter, New York City has unquestionably been Yankee Country. The Mets poked their heads out for a while in 1999 and 2000, then again in '06, but the Yankees made a show of keeping pace.
Now, the Mets are off to their best start in franchise history, flying high with 11 straight wins and 13 in 16 games. And while the Yankees are also thriving, winning six of seven to move into a tie for first place, there is a sense around Flushing that the Mets have more momentum. Their roster, unlike the Yankees', is littered with young stars in their primes. Their ambitions stretch well beyond the Grand Central Parkway or the 59th Street Bridge, to heights unseen since well before the Yankees won their last title in 2009.
"I know there's a lot of Mets pride going on," Yankees third baseman Chase Headley said. "Probably nobody likes to hear that as a Yankees fan, but I think it's good when both teams are good. It's good for baseball."
As Headley noted, it's not as if the Yankees are simply going to cede their status as New York's alpha males without a fight. They'll take the field at their home park behind Michael Pineda, who stands 2-0 despite a 5.00 ERA. Like the Mets, the Yankees have relied more on pitching than hitting throughout their current hot streak, winning thanks in large part to an untouchable bullpen.
"It's going to be fun," said reliever Dellin Betances, who has not allowed an earned run this season. "Especially with the Mets in first place, and we're playing very good baseball right now, I'm excited to get things rolling again."
The Mets will counter Friday with Jacob deGrom, who seemed unfazed in making his debut against the Yankees one year ago. Since that time, deGrom has established himself not as a rotation stopgap, but as the reigning National League Rookie of the Year with a 0.93 ERA through three starts of his encore. Beyond that matchup lies Harvey vs. CC Sabathia on Saturday, followed by Jon Niese and Nathan Eovaldi on Sunday night.
"We're excited," deGrom said. "We've been playing good baseball."
Witnesses should pack Yankee Stadium throughout. Some will be rooting for a changing of the guard. Others hope the Yankees can assert continued dominance of the five boroughs.
In either event, New York City wins.
"I know there are people who love the Mets and hate the Yankees, and vice versa, and the same in basketball and hockey," Collins said. "This is still a great sports town and there's a lot of buzz. This should be a great weekend for us, moving in. The Yankees are playing great. We're playing good. It should be a lot of fun."