The New York Mets came away with a big series win over the weekend. This series may be bigger.
At least that’s the way the Philadelphia Phillies see it.
The first-place Mets face their closest pursuers in the NL East for the second time in two weeks when they begin a three-game set against the Phillies on Tuesday at Shea Stadium.
“Anytime you play (the Mets), it’s going to be big,” said Phillies slugger Ryan Howard, who has homered in the last two games to increase his May totals to nine home runs and 22 RBIs in 18 games.
“It’s early, but at the same time, you want to treat it as every game.”
While the Phillies are trying to show they are more like the team that won 13 of 14 and not the one that more recently lost five in a row, the Mets have controlled the division throughout the season after starting 8-1.
New York even got the better of its usually superior crosstown rival this weekend, winning two of three games—all decided by one run—against the Yankees.
“Right now, they’re definitely the team to beat,” Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said of the Mets, who have a three-game lead on the second-place Phillies.
When New York visited Citizens Bank Park from May 9-11, Philadelphia won two of three games. The Mets’ 13-4 victory in the middle game of that series was the Phillies’ only loss during a 14-game stretch that pulled them within one game of New York.
Philadelphia, though, went on to lose five straight before salvaging the finale of a three-game series against Boston with a 10-5 win on Sunday.
The Mets, meanwhile, held on for a 4-3 victory over the Yankees as closer Billy Wagner survived allowing two hits in the ninth inning, one night after giving up four runs in the ninth of a 5-4, 11-inning defeat.
“It was only right that it was one run,” Wagner said. “I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I wanted to pitch no matter what, just like I told Willie (Randolph).
“You’re only as good as your last game.”
Wagner did not take the mound against Philadelphia earlier this month, shortly after making disparaging comments toward some ex-teammates and saying he was not well-liked in the Phillies clubhouse. Wagner, who had 59 saves over the previous two seasons, insisted he left Philadelphia not for financial reasons but because the team would not offer a no-trade clause.
While many Phillies may be happy to take on Wagner, they should feel fortunate not having to face the top two starters in New York’s rotation during this series. With Pedro Martinez and Tom Glavine not slated to pitch until later in the week against Florida, Philadelphia will face journeyman Jeremi Gonzalez and rookie Alay Soler after facing Steve Trachsel (2-4, 4.33 ERA) in the series opener.
Trachsel again will be opposed by Gavin Floyd (4-2, 5.71) in a rematch from the series finale earlier this month. That game was called after 4 1/2 innings due to rain and the Phillies won 2-0 behind Floyd, who allowed two hits and walked four in five innings.
Trachsel fell to 10-10 in 28 career starts against Philadelphia, giving up two runs and six hits in four innings. He bounced back with a strong seven-inning performance at St. Louis on Wednesday but was outdueled by Mark Mulder in a 1-0 defeat.
Floyd, meanwhile, struggled in his last start as he allowed five runs in 5 1-3 innings of an 8-7 loss to Milwaukee on Wednesday, though he did not receive a decision and is unbeaten in his last four outings. The right-hander has allowed one run in 12 innings to win his only two career starts against the Mets, but has never pitched at Shea Stadium.