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Subway Of The World

Yankees, Mets Are Glad They Can Finally Get Away From Hype


NEW YORK — After four days of blaring tabloid headlines such as "Ready to Rumble," and "Civil War," and endless man-on-the-street interviews with Vinnie from the Bronx and Joey from Queens, and a nonstop media barrage that only a Subway Series can incite, the New York Mets and New York Yankees tonight will hear two of the most soothing words they've heard all week:

"Play ball!"

With that, the 96th World Series, pitting the cross-town rival Mets and Yankees, the first Subway Series since 1956, the rematch of teams that developed a distinct dislike for each other after Roger Clemens' beaning of Mike Piazza in July--call it baseball Armageddon with a Noo Yawk accent--will begin in Yankee Stadium.

And maybe, just maybe, the hype will begin to subside.

"I really think the easiest part of this whole World Series will be playing the games," Met reliever Turk Wendell said. "On the field, in the training room, in the bathroom . . . any place you can get away, we'll find refuge. I think the media and the fans have made a lot more of this than the players."

Yankee right fielder Paul O'Neill will be playing in his fourth World Series in five years, but never has he experienced this kind of sensory overload in the days leading up to Game 1.

"I'm pretty numb from just running around and answering question after question about the Subway Series," O'Neill said. "I mean, you turn on the television or the radio, you walk into the restaurant, you walk into the grocery store, that's all people are talking about. The rest of the country, outside of this big fishbowl here, I don't know what they're doing.

"We would have liked to have played [Thursday night], so we can stop being grilled. It was great having days off, but these days are great for butterflies to set in. No matter how many times you've been there, no matter what you've been through, it's nerve-racking."

It doesn't seem all that nerve-racking to the other Yankees. The World Series has become a regular late-October gig for them, almost as routine as a three-game series in Boston in August.

They will be shooting to become the first team since the 1972-74 Oakland Athletics to win three consecutive World Series championships, and they have won three of the last four titles, so they are not in awe of the setting, as some World Series neophytes can be.

But neither are the Mets. Though they haven't played in the World Series since beating Boston in 1986, they play in the same city as the Yankees and under the same powerful media microscope. Like the Yankees, they have a huge payroll, demanding fans and are expected to win.

And they know how crazy a Met-Yankee series can be and how intimidating Yankee Stadium can be because they experienced it first-hand in interleague play, when the Mets and Yankees pack their stadiums.

"We're definitely not strangers to each other, and there's an advantage to having played here," Met catcher Mike Piazza said. "I remember the first time I walked into Yankee Stadium, and they were playing clips of DiMaggio and Mantle and 'Pride of the Yankees' [on the video board]. I mean, you're kind of defeated even before you take the field. We've gotten past that now."

Once you get past all the Subway Series hype, once you peel the Big Apple off this World Series and get right to the core, what you'll find are two very good baseball teams that should provide much better October theater than the Yankees-Braves in 1999 and Yankees-Padres in 1998, both Yankee sweeps.

The reason goes beyond marquee matchups such as Piazza-Clemens, Edgardo Alfonso-Derek Jeter, Bobby Valentine-Joe Torre, Timo Perez-Tino Martinez, and Al Leiter-Andy Pettitte in Game 1 tonight.

It has to do with the intangibles both teams bring to the series, powerful forces that are not easily measured but have driven the teams to this point and will clash beginning tonight.

For the Yankees, who won only 87 games during the season, it is a feeling they will always win when they have to, that they will get the clutch hit, make the key play to win the big game in October.

They began the playoffs having lost 15 of their last 18 regular-season games, and many thought they were vulnerable against upstart Oakland and Seattle, but they vanquished the A's and Mariners in a cool, almost detached manner, playing their usual solid games and letting the opponents make mistakes.

"It's that confidence, that swagger, that feeling that we've done it before, we can do it again," Seattle Manager Lou Piniella said when asked to explain the Yankees' playoff success. "They rise up to the occasion. They don't really get rattled over there. They play their game.

"They are a little more vulnerable, and they are not as deep. . . . But I'll tell you this, when that game starts, you've got to go out and beat them, because they don't give games away."

For the Mets, it is a feeling that no matter how long the odds, no matter how dire the circumstances, they will pull out a victory.

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