CLEARWATER, Fla. -- When it comes to sports rivalries, Philadelphia and New York haven't exactly been friends. Giants-Eagles battles usually create much conversation among football fans, and hockey fans typically circle Flyers-Rangers dates on their calender. But when it comes to baseball, the Phillies and Mets haven't held up their end. Phils shortstop Jimmy Rollins moved to change that last month when he proclaimed the Phillies as the team to beat in the National League East, and again when he echoed that sentiment this week. While his teammates respect the Mets, they applauded Rollins' confidence and right to speak his mind.
The Mets responded from Port St. Lucie, Fla., mostly laughing at Rollins' assertions. The New York Daily News ran a headline reading "Silly Phillie," referring to Rollins. "Good for him," Mets center fielder Carlos Beltran said of Rollins' comments. "What did they win last year?" "I'm not going to touch that," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said, then joked, "St. Louis did win the [NL Championship Series] though, didn't they? It's all right. If we back up what we talk about, that's fine. I don't see anything wrong with a little swagger or a little cockiness, but we [have] to deliver." Either way, this adds some extra life to five April games between the division rivals. The first, on April 9, is the Mets' home opener. "The Phillies probably were the most active team in our division," Mets left-hander Tom Glavine said, "but what you do in the winter -- it looks good and it's a nice to talk about -- but it doesn't equate to anything. You bring in pieces of the puzzle and hope they mesh. You hope you have a good year. But nobody's going to know that until the year starts." Games between the Mets and Phillies have been largely meaningless to one team or the other in the 37 years that both clubs have resided in the East. The teams have finished 1-2 in the standings twice, in 1986 and 2006, and in both those years, the Phillies trailed the Mets by a wide margin. Rollins' assertion stemmed from his confidence in Philadelphia's pitching staff, and in its relative youth -- 44-year-old Jamie Moyer aside -- by comparison. Both teams have potent lineups. Righty Brett Myers, one of the more outspoken Phillies, hates losing to New York, and joked that Mets fans shouldn't be allowed to buy tickets for games in Philadelphia. "I don't think they have the starting pitching we have," Myers said. "It's competitive talk. We think we're good. They think they're better. It's fun."
Mets players wondered whether Rollins was sending a message to the Mets or Phillies."We're not going to come out and talk," Mets third baseman David Wright said. "We don't need to do that. Until somebody dethrones us, we're the defending NL East champs, and we're going to act like it. As far as predictions and talking about it, talk is very cheap." Continuing to work: A group of players got some animated tutelage from Phils first-base coach Davey Lopes during Thursday's drills. Lopes' goal is to work on baserunning and stealing. "Baserunning can win and lose games," said second baseman Chase Utley, a member of the group working with Lopes. "It's something so simple, but I think it gets overlooked at times. Davey is going to bring his experience in, his tips, and I think it's a positive. He's trying to get a feel for what we like to do, and gave his opinion on how he thinks it should go. It's pretty basic. It's not brain surgery." While hitters were taking live batting practice, Lopes tutored the players when they reached second base and spoke to them about stealing third. "Especially their footwork -- we were mainly at second and getting them to understand the mechanics of stealing third base," Lopes said. "Stealing second is more from a power position. When you attempt to steal third, more times than not, you want a rhythm, timing type of thing. I was trying to get a feel for how they did it, then talk about it, demonstrate what I saw and how to make it better. It worked pretty well." Brito recovering: For the first three weeks after his car accident, lefty Eude Brito couldn't lift a spoon. The pain in his neck and left shoulder wouldn't allow it. Changing the radio station on a wet night in San Pedro de Marcois, Dominican Republic, Brito was startled when a motorcycle rider suddenly appeared. He swerved, lost control, and hit a wall. The Dec. 19 crash left Brito in a neck brace for a month, and it set him back preparing for Spring Training. He said he feels better and hopes an MRI on Thursday will allow him to resume his competition for a spot in the Phillies' bullpen. "I'm throwing and feeling a lot better," Brito said. "I was worried at the beginning, because I didn't know how long it would take. I didn't think it was going to be a big deal." Philling in: Manuel was impressed on Thursday with the work of pitchers Freddy Garcia, Matt Smith and Brian Mazone, and the hitting of Jayson Werth, Karim Garcia and Greg Dobbs, not tipping his hand as to who might have the lead in the battle for what appears to be two bench spots. Chris Coste is also involved in that competition.
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.