Big Apple's world party as Yankees join Mets

New York's first Subway Series since 1956 rekindles memories of a golden era

The last time it happened, the Red Army was rolling into Hungary, the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn and Don Larsen pitched the only perfect game ever seen in the World Series. Now, 44 years on, the Big Apple is savouring the prospect of another Subway Series, and the rest of baseball America is bracing itself for an orgy of New York triumphalism.

The last time it happened, the Red Army was rolling into Hungary, the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn and Don Larsen pitched the only perfect game ever seen in the World Series. Now, 44 years on, the Big Apple is savouring the prospect of another Subway Series, and the rest of baseball America is bracing itself for an orgy of New York triumphalism.

On Monday night, the team from the borough of Queens did its bit as the Mets clinically completed the demolition of the St Louis Cardinals with a 7-0 victory that wrapped up the National League championship series by four games to one. The din in Shea Stadium was so loud it drowned out the jets overhead as they took off from La Guardia.

Twenty-four hours later there was identical bedlam in the Bronx Zoo on 161st Street, otherwise known as Yankee Stadium, as the Yanks - amid quite palpitating drama - saw off the tenacious Seattle Mariners to set up the first all-New York contest for baseball's supreme crown since 1956.

The sixth game of the American League championship, a four-hour marathon, was the most pulsating contest yet of this post-season. Seattle took a 4-0 lead into the fourth, before the Yankees scored three of their own. A five-run seventh seemed to clinch it for New York. But, even as Yankee fans unfurled giant "Subway 2000" banners, the Mariners came back with three runs in their half of the eighth against Mariano Rivera, owner of the best post-season record among active closing pitchers.

But in the end Rivera prevailed. After conceding a soft single to Alex Rodriguez, he forced Edgar Martinez, representing the tying run, to ground out weakly to short stop to secure the third out - and send the city of New York into a fortnight of guaranteed delirium. "The team's spirit is great, we fight, we've great heart, and now it's the biggest one of all for us, the Subway Series," Rivera said.

The saga starts on Saturday in Yankee Stadium, and no rational individual would venture a dollar on the outcome. The Mets staged a typical September swoon before clinching the NL wild card berth. Then, playing tight, focussed baseball behind some lethal pitching, they routed first the fancied San Francisco Giants and then the Cardinals in the play-offs.

The Yankees have been even more erratic. They were pre-season favourites but staggered across the regular season finish line with seven straight losses, the worst stretch run ever by a division winning team. In the post-season they just got past the Oakland Athletics, before the six-game struggle with Seattle. "Sometimes the hardest thing is to win when everyone expects you to," said Paul O'Neill, the Yankee outfielder who broke out of a deep slump on Tuesday by collecting two hits and 3 RBIS. "The World Series should be fantastic, two great teams with great pitching."

If the Yankees can go all the way, they will not only collect their fourth world title in five years but become the first club to win three straight since the unstoppable Oakland of 1974-1976. First, though, there is the little matter of the Mets.

The distance between Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium is five miles as the crow flies, or a 40-minute subway ride (lines 4 and 7, change at Grand Central station). But the rivalry will divide neighbourhoods and sever families. Above all it will rekindle memories of the game's supposed golden age in the immediate post-war era, when the 'World' as in World Series effectively denoted the five boroughs of New York.

Once it was the Dodgers and their fans' eternal refrain of "wait until next year," losers of six World Series against the Yankees before gaining their only but never-to-be-forgotten triumph in 1955.

Normal service resumed the next year when they were put to the sword again by the Yankees, courtesy of, among others, Mickey Mantle and the aforementioned Don Larsen.

Barely 12 months later the Dodgers departed to Los Angeles, and their legacy of sentiment passed to the Mets. Though they were upset winners of two World Series in 1969 and 1986 until lately the Queens team was one of baseball's chronic under-achievers, overshadowed by their strutting rivals in the Bronx.

This time, however, they have a real chance of scoring one for the National League, and avenging the restless shades of Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese and the legendary Dodgers of yesteryear. Unless, of course, passions on the field, running as high as 50 years ago, get in the way.

The games will be played before bawling New York audiences in two of baseball's most venerable but roughest stadiums: the "House That Ruth Built" dating back to 1923, and the much younger but desperately old-fashioned Shea, whose memories apart from two world titles include the legendary Beatles concert of 1965. "This will be wild," opined David Justice, whose rocketing three-run homer played a huge part in disposing of Seattle on Tuesday. And it could be wild, literally.

Even when they weren't playing each other, Mets and Yankees were at loggerheads. Interleague play, however, has added to the poison, culminating this July when the Yankee's Roger Clemens felled Mike Piazza with a wicked pitch to the head that put the Mets' superstar on the injured list for a fortnight.

The Mets have not forgotten; and the only thing certain about the days ahead is that Clemens will not pitch at Shea, where National League rules apply. Pitchers have to bat, and revenge is thick in the air.

WORLD SERIES DERBIES

1906: Chicago White Sox 4 Cubs 2

The underdog White Sox - the "hitless wonders" - beat the Cubs, whose 116 regular-season wins is still a record.

1921: New York Giants 5 Yankees 3

The first Series to be played at one park, the Polo Grounds. Babe Ruth hit the first of his 15 WS home runs.

1922: Giants 4 Yankees 0

The worst of Babe Ruth's seven World Series as a Yankee. He had two hits and one RBI.

1923: Yankees 4 Giants 2

The first World Series at Yankee Stadium, also the first to reach $1m in receipts.

1936: Yankees 4 Giants 2

The Yankees' first World Series without Babe Ruth and their first with Joe DiMaggio.

1937: Yankees 4 Giants 1

The Yankees became the first team to win six World Series. Lou Gehrig hit his 10th and last WS home run, DiMaggio his first.

1941: Yankees 4 Brooklyn Dodgers 1

The Dodgers reached post-season play for the first time since 1920.

1944: St Louis Cardinals 4 Browns 2

All games were played at Sportsman's Park.

1947: Yankees 4 Brooklyn Dodgers 3

In Game 5, Yankee Bill Bevens came close to throwing the first WS no-hitter.

1949: Yankees 4 Brooklyn Dodgers 1

Casey Stengel, in his first season as Yankees' manager, won his first World Series.

1951: Yankees 4 Giants 2

Game 6 marked Joe DiMaggio's last World Series appearance and final Major League game. It was also Willie Mays' first WS.

1952: Yankees 4 Brooklyn Dodgers 3

The Yankees beat Brooklyn for the fourth time.

1953: Yankees 4 Brooklyn Dodgers 2

The Yankees won an unprecedented fifth straight World Series.

1955: Dodgers 4 Yankees 3

A record 17 homers in the first six games.

1956: Yankees 4 Brooklyn Dodgers 3

In Game 5, Don Larsen pitched the first and only WS perfect game and no-hitter.

1989: Oakland 4 San Francisco Giants 0

Series was postponed 12 days when an earthquake hit the Bay Area before Game 3.

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