Pieces in place for Subway Series

Pieces in place for Subway Series

There are two words that never fail to gladden the hearts of New Yorkers:

Rent control. No, no, these are two different words:

Subway Series.

It could happen. In fact, the chances of this occurring have gone, in less than one month, from truly remote to distinctly possible.

The last time this happened was in 2000. Coincidentally or not, this was also the last time the New York Yankees won the World Series. The Yankees ruled the baseball world then, officially for the third straight season and unofficially for the better part of eight decades.

Since then, there has been a lot less room at the top. Five different clubs have won the World Series. And some of those clubs have been really different -- the Red Sox for the first time in 86 years, the White Sox for the first time in 88 years.

The different thing about the possibility of the forthcoming Fall Classic becoming a Bronx-Queens Classic is that for most of the summer, it was the Mets who were the much surer bet.

Even now, their position in the National League is somewhere between unassailable and heavenly. They have a 15 1/2-game lead in the NL East. It is a question of when they will clinch, not if, and it has been for some time.

It is not only within their division that they are dominant. After Monday's victory over the Phillies, the Mets were 11 games ahead of the NL team with the second-best record, the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cardinals won 205 games over the last two regular seasons, and were once again regarded before this season as the best the Senior Circuit had to offer. But last week, when these two teams met, the Mets swept the Cards, even without the services of either of their two top starters, Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine.

The Mets have been forced to patch together a starting rotation, but that patching hasn't interrupted their march toward the pennant. The lineup that they put on the field every day is impressive, relentless and multi-dimensional, with speed, power and depth. And the Mets made themselves deeper and better with the recent acquisition of Shawn Green.

Presuming that both Martinez and Glavine are healthy for the postseason, it would be highly difficult to project any other National League team beating them. The only possibility would be a team whose pitching gets on a roll at precisely the right time. Maybe the Dodgers of recent weeks suggest themselves in that area. The Astros still have this theoretical possibility. But over time this season, nobody else's pitching in the National League has reminded you of an October success story.

But it takes two for a Subway Series, and as recently as July, it didn't appear that the Yankees were going to be capable of holding up their end of the bargain. But two things happened: They traded for Bobby Abreu and they staged the Return of the Boston Massacre, with a five-game sweep of the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

Abreu was the ideal outfield reinforcement; a solid all-around player and another highly selective hitter, who would make a trip through the Yankees' lineup just that much more painfully time-consuming for the opposition. You saw the results in Boston. The Yankees drew 28 walks in the first three games, and by that time Boston's pitching was gasping. This series changed the basic nature of the AL East race, perhaps for keeps.

It may well be that the Yankees were the only team in baseball that could have comfortably taken on the weighty financial considerations that came with Abreu. But it also is true that they played all summer without their regular corner outfielders, Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield, and yet found a way to stay afloat.

The Yankees' road to a Subway Series looks a little more uphill than that of the Mets. Their 6 1/2-game lead in the AL East is not an issue. What looks more difficult are the potential postseason opponents. Oakland will likely come out of the West and two of three should hail from the Central: Detroit, Minnesota and Chicago. All have better pitching on paper than the Yanks. But then, this is an American League year in all other ways, so its eventual champion should be severely tested by somebody, everybody.

But the Yankees are once again solidly on course for October. The Mets are, for all intents and purposes, already there, with the only question remaining how close to to the end of the month they can get. The Subway Series concept is once again a growth stock.

The passion for the game remains completely in effect in all of the various boroughs. And New York remains the cultural capital of America, the financial capital of America, and the delicatessen capital of America. These are three of the four essential categories, but New York has not officially been the baseball capital for six years. This might be the season when the Big Apple once again makes it four-for-four and in the largest way possible.

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