By Jeff Moeller, The New York Extra/thenyextra.com
It was just over 24 years ago on June 16, 1997 when the Yankees and Mets first met in inter-league play at Yankee Stadium.
The intensity in the air could have been sliced with a knife, and the hype could have been easily measured on a seismograph. It was the media’s version of Christmas and the public’s rapture with it was a holiday as well.
It was that big. The city was electrified over its two baseball teams and bragging rights were on the line.
Yet, don’t forget the annual Mayor’s Trophy Game between the two teams that occurred from 1963 to 1983 typically on an off Monday in April. The Mayor’s Trophy Game began in 1946 as a method to raise money for New York City’s Amateur Baseball Federation, which included sandlot baseball programs. The game initially pitted the Giants against the Yankees.
The game always was well attended until 1977 when crowds dipped under 20,000 for the final five contests. There weren’t any games during the 1980 and 1981 seasons.
In this new inaugural showdown, these were the defending champion Yankees against the rising Mets. Both teams ironically entered the game with identical 37-30 records before a packed crowd of 56,188 with a 7:35 first pitch on a perfect 70-degree Monday night.
This series proved that records and prestige could be thrown out the window.
Andy Pettitte took the mound with an 8-3 record for manager Joe Torre, against Mets’ journeyman pitcher Dave Mlicki, who struggled with a 2-5 mark for manager Bobby Valentine.
This would be the inaugural battle filled with some memorable moments that made excellent trivia questions.
The Yankees’ faces in the lineup were the familiar likes of Derek Jeter, Paul O’Neill, and Tino Martinez and the legendary Mark Whiten and Chad Curtis, while the Mets’ cast featured the likes of Lance Johnson, Carl Everett, Luis Lopez, Matt Franco, (remember Carlos Baerga?) and Butch Huskey – the team’s first DH in a game.
However, the Mets jumped on Pettitte for three runs in the first on John Olerud and Huskey’s RBI singles, and Todd Hundley shocked the crowd when he stole home off Pettitte and catcher Joe Girardi.
Olerud added a two-run single in the seventh that would chase Pettitte, who was ineffective all night. The lefty allowed five earned runs on eight hits with four strikeouts and three walks. Graeme Lloyd worked the final two innings.
Mlicki arguably threw his best game of the season with a 119-pitch, complete game (his lone) 6-0 shutout, keeping the Yankees off balance the entire night with a decent fastball and a moving curveball. He scattered nine hits with eight strikeouts and two walks, and struck out Jeter looking (twice overall) to end the game.
The Yankees left 10 men on base and were 0-11 with runners in scoring position. Their second baseman for the night? Try Pat Kelly.
Jeter was quoted as saying “Mlicki pretty much pitched perfect. Every time we had a runner in scoring position he pitched well.”
The Yankees rebounded the following night to take a 6-3 victory behind David Wells, who outdueled Armando Reynoso with a seven-hitter over eight innings before he game way to Mariano Rivera.
In the matinee finale of the three-game set — the lone series between them – the Yanks staked David Cone to a 2-0 lead with a pair of runs off Rick Reed before the Mets rallied late to tie the game and send it to the 10th inning.
Martinez won the game, 3-2, with an RBI single off John Franco in the 10th.
The series was in the books, and also sketched in the New York backdrop as an annual outlet for fans to stop and battle their crosstown rival.
It has lost some of its luster, but it is a ritual to diehard fans on both sides.