The rivalry that isn't

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Centerfielder Ben Revere chases down Marlon Byrd's seventh-inning, RBI double.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Centerfielder Ben Revere chases down Marlon Byrd's seventh-inning, RBI double.
Posted: June 24, 2013

WAS IT really 7 years ago, before spring training, when Jimmy Rollins boldly proclaimed the Phillies, a team that had not reached the playoffs since 1993, were "the team to beat" in National League East?

If you remember, that didn't go over so well in New York, where the Mets were the reigning division champions.

But the Phillies made Rollins, who had an MVP season, look like Nostradamus.

Completing one of their most dramatic seasons ever, the Phillies won the East by beating the Washington Nationals on the final day of the regular season while the Mets lost at home to the Florida Marlins. It completed one of the more memorable collapses in baseball history, the Mets blowing a seven-game lead with 17 games remaining.

The following season, 2008, Cole Hamels famously noted the Mets' penchant for coughing up hairballs as the Phillies took advantage of another late-season New York swoon to win the East.

The Phillies went on to win their second World Series and the rivalry with the Mets looked like something that was going to heat up the next several summers in both cities.

Yesterday, the Mets beat the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, 8-0. Going into the game, the Phils were a lowly 36-39 while the Mets were a lowlier 29-42. The three-season rivalry between the teams, from 2006-08, has long been forgotten.

Oh, Phillies fans still love to hate the Mets, and vice versa, but that's more about the dislike the two cities have for each other.

Almost 131,000 came out to see the Mets win two of the three games. But as far as heat generated by the two teams battling for something important, that has dissipated as quickly as it came about.

The funny thing is that for as much as both sides like to talk about a rivalry, they rarely have been good at the same time.

The Phillies were floundering at the bottom of the National League when the Mets won the 1969 World Series and the 1973 National League pennant.

In the late 1970s, when the Phillies won three consecutive NL East titles, the Mets barely played .400 baseball. During the Phillies' World Series seasons in 1980 and 1983, the Mets finished more than 20 games back.

It was the reverse in 1986 and 1988; in '86 the Mets won the World Series, in '88 they went to the playoffs.

Finally, when the Phillies went to the World Series in 1993, the Mets were 59-103 and finished 38 games back.

Those are hardly the makings of a "hot rivalry.''

But 2006 changed that.

Although the Phillies finished 12 games back, it was the first time since 1986 that they were the top two teams in the division.

After three summers of intense baseball up and down the New Jersey Turnpike, the "rivalry'' has been a dud five consecutive seasons now.

After winning 89 games in 2008, the Mets won just 70 in 2009. They are on pace for their fifth consecutive season of fewer than 80 wins.

The Phillies took a slower path to mediocrity.

In 2009, they went back to the World Series and lost to the Mets' cross-New York antithesis, the Yankees.

The Phillies won the East in 2010 and 2011 but lost in the National League playoffs both seasons.

By 2012, the Phillies were a .500 team, and this season we have this.

What the Mets did do this weekend is show once and for all that the Phillies don't have the stuff to pull themselves back into the hunt for a National League playoff spot. If the Phillies were going to display a pulse, the June schedule was going to be a time to do it. But a 3-7 road trip through Milwaukee, Minnesota and Colorado set a bad tone.

Now they've lost three of their last four at CBP, including two straight to a Mets team they had beaten in five of six previous games.

So despite the East-leading Atlanta Braves stumbling recently, the Phillies find themselves 7 1/2 games out heading into a 10-game road trip through San Diego, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh.

"The homestand feels like this is kind of how we play," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "All year long, if you've watched us, there is an inconsistent part of it.

"We need to play better baseball and run off some kind of streak. Yeah, I wonder if we can do that. I think things have to fall really right for us. We have to play tremendous baseball. We can win some games, how many I don't know, and I wouldn't attempt to guess."

The Mets are just six wins behind the Phillies. Considering that's closer than the Phillies are to the Braves, maybe this is still a "hot rivalry'' after all.


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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