NEW YORK -- It is, after all, New York, where the trivial and the tawdry can become larger than life, where a week of losing can create a crisis and where a September collapse like the Mets' 2007 swoon can put a manager like Willie Randolph on thin ice, especially when his team drifts through the first quarter of the next season.
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, the Yankees began this weekend in the American League East cellar with Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada on the disabled list and their starting pitching an ongoing question mark. No one's job in the Bronx is yet under fire, but Yankees chief executive Hank Steinbrenner is not afraid to bellow his displeasure.
So the latest renewal of the interleague jewel known as the "Subway Series" involves two teams struggling to their get their legs under them. And that makes tonight's ESPN "Sunday Night Game of the Week" an early season benchmark for both the Mets and Yankees.
It has been a tough week for the Mets, who clearly carry an air of tension around them. Comments made by closer Billy Wagner following a loss Thursday questioned the accountability of other Mets veterans, particularly Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran. At the same time, Randolph was treated to loud boos at his every appearance in Shea Stadium, adding to the speculation concerning the manager's future.
Prior to Friday night's rainout at Yankee Stadium, the Mets had a team meeting that lasted nearly an hour. When they emerged, Mets players insisted all was well. Both Wagner and Delgado insisted there was no tension between them and that the controversy was "overblown," a shocking suggestion in such a low-key place like New York.
However, Randolph candidly acknowledged that the heat he has been getting recently has gotten a little under his skin. "The booing stings and so does hearing stuff about my head being on the block, or whatever," Randolph said. "I hurt when we lose more than anyone, I hurt when we don't play good baseball. And more than anything, I want to win for these fans. So yeah, you can't help but feel it when you hear what's going around us lately."
No one should be surprised that the Mets would be under pressure from day one this season after their epic slide to oblivion in September '07. And they haven't helped themselves by often playing listless and sloppy baseball through the first quarter of the season. "We have not played anywhere close to what we are capable," third baseman David Wright said. "We play well a few days, then we play lousy a few days. That's really what we talked about, playing to our capabilities, just playing good baseball."
While the Mets spin in crisis mode, the Yankees are just hoping to get healthy and start scoring runs again. Through their first 42 games, the Yankees had scored the fewest runs for that period since 1990. Rodriguez is expected to rejoin the Yankees Tuesday, while Posada's return from a shoulder injury is less predictable.
The Yankees on Sunday will have one of their major assets: Chien-Ming Wang, who goes for his seventh win of the season. Wang won 38 games over the past two seasons, but everyone who watches him this year sees an even better pitcher.
"He's becoming like Brandon Webb," said Al Leiter, who pitched for both the Mets and Yankees and is now an analyst for the Bombers' YES Network.
"He's always had the great sinker like Webb does. But Webb learned a couple of years ago that he needed a second out pitch for those times when he didn't have the good sinker. And he developed a good changeup as well as a pretty good slider. So now he has more than one weapon, and look at how good he's become.
"I see the same thing with Wang. He's still going to throw that great sinker 85 percent of the time. But now he has improved his slider to the point where it's become a legitimate second out pitch. Plus, he's throwing some good changeups to left-handed hitters. And he will at times throw a four-seam pitch up and in to left-handed hitters, and that pitch has got him some easy fly-ball outs."
Wang will oppose Oliver Perez, who in many ways embodies the inconsistency of the entire Mets ballclub. Perez often is overpowering for a series of innings, only to suddenly unravel and waste an otherwise solid effort.
That's sort of how the Mets have played from day to day. And under the extra scrutiny of their annual matchup with the Yankees, that makes games like this one all the more important for the Mets in 2008.
Peter Pascarelli is the lead researcher for "Sunday Night Baseball." He will preview each Sunday night game all season long. He is also co-host of the Baseball Today podcast, which runs Monday through Friday on ESPN.com.