Phillies vs. Mets take “endless agitation” of their rivalry to London (2024)

This weekend, as the tendrils of MLB marketing wrap around every recognizable London landmark, you may have heard that the Phillies and Mets will play a pair of games there. It’s all part of commissioner Rob Manfred’s scheme to get more people across the globe infected with baseball fever, so that they may all know the pain and joy and mostly pain that the sport creates.

“We think our game is at its best when we have traditional rivals playing and we want to show the fans here in London the very best form of baseball,” Manfred told reporters last year when this match-up was announced.

The very “best” form of the sport, through Manfred’s determination, is not about the quality of the two teams chosen to play, but rather which teams they are. This is a far more easily-scheduled way to say that London is getting the best MLB has to offer: Rivals! Fans! The brutal accents of the American northeast! Who cares if either of them have completely deflated by early June!

Manfred, of course, had no idea how these two teams would be doing when this 2024 London Series was officially announced in June 2023. So instead of actually picking two teams that could show the sport being played on its highest level, Manfred selected one team that would be doing that, and also, the Mets.

But if there’s one thing the Phillies and Mets have proven over the years it’s that no matter which one of them (if not both) is floating in the standings with corpse-like stagnation, the rivalry will, in fact, continue to exist. Phillies and Mets fans have too much misappropriated anger and repressed fear to not scream at each other, regardless of the stakes involved. Just last year, the Mets’ hedge-fund managing billionaire owner who, I believe, got the Mets as a throw-in with some sort of ill-fated NFT package, demanded the ad on the sleeve of the Mets’ uniform be changed because it looked too much like the Phillies’ red and white colors. In response, the Phillies made it to their second consecutive NLCS. I’ll let you decide who had the better season.

This endless agitation at even the slightest reference to each other is why they’re rivals, in addition to geographic proximity and twin cases of “little brother” syndrome, despite having never played each other in a playoff game.

A bad example for Little Leaguers

London won’t be the first time the Phillies and Mets were chosen to play a neutral site, however. In 2018, the two teams got to play in the second Little League Classic game in Williamsport, PA. The Mets won, 8-2, thanks to a two-run single by Jeff McNeil (who has recently been benched by the Mets, leading to their “hot” streak of five wins), a solid start from Jason Vargas (who would join the Phillies and be terrible the next year), and a rally sparked by Todd Frazier (no longer in big league baseball).

As horrified Little Leaguers looked on, the Phillies tried to get something out of their starter Nick Pivetta, and they got it: six earned runs in three and two-thirds innings. The loss was the Phillies’ seventh in their last 11 games and prevented them from moving into first place. Neither team was playoff-bound that season, but there’s always a sick pleasure in the defeat of a rival, especially if their season means something and yours doesn’t.

Here we are, six years later, and the Phillies and Mets have been chosen once more to be baseball’s pitch to a new community. I can’t say watching Brandon Nimmo ground out to short or Taijuan Walker throw hittable pitches straight into a Mets batter’s power stroke is going to make Londoners think more highly of the Phillies and/or Mets, but the rivalry will show how seriously we take our teams: seriously enough to follow them halfway around the world.

The ignominious start of a bitter rivalry

Who would have thought that these two teams would be featured on the marquee of big-time MLB marketing? When they first met on April 27, 1962, the first-year Mets were on their way to the worst MLB season of all time, and the Phillies were two years away from the worst sports collapse their city has still ever seen. But with their separate, terrible fates still awaiting them, they combined forces to play an inaugural game that was called, of course, “a comedy of errors.”

The Mets starting pitcher, Roger Craig, was said to leave the game in the second inning, “defeat already draped on his sagging shoulders.” Don Zimmer was playing third base for the Mets that day, stretching his ongoing hitless streak to 32 at-bats, and Mets third base coach Rogers Hornsby was said to have his 66th birthday “ruined” as the Mets failed to score inning after inning. But then, baseball whipped out its oldest, cruelest trick: hope.

The Phillies had 15 hits that day, 12 of which occurred by the sixth inning—with all but one of those hits being singles. The Mets threw in a few walks and errors to help the Phillies build their lead, and Johnny Callison was an absolute horror for Mets pitchers, logging a four-hit day.

Down 11-4, the Mets started to batter Phillies reliever Frank Sullivan, and by the time a three-run homer went over the fence, they were only down 11-8. Sullivan went back out for the ninth for some reason and allowed a two-out base runner to steal second and third without a throw. He came into score on a single and the Mets had slimmed it down to 11-9.

Fortunately, Phillies manager Gene Mauch finally figured out how to signal to the bullpen and brought in a new pitcher, who struck out the only batter he faced and ended the game. The teams would split the four-game set—Each winning one of the first two games by two runs, and each winning one of the last two games by eight runs. It was a sign of the chaotic balance on which this rivalry would teeter for generations to come.

But after Williamsport and London, the question becomes, where will these two teams play each other next? Antarctica? The moon? Who knows. Both seem more likely than the playoffs, tragically. But the beauty of the rivalry between these teams is that it doesn’t matter where its next chapter takes place; simply that it takes place.

Think of the families ripped apart by their Phillies and Mets allegiances; the Jimmy Rollins vs. Jose Reyes and Pete Alonso vs. Rhys Hoskins arguments of yesteryear; that time the Mets tried to infer that James McCann was better than J.T. Realmuto. This is the true marketing of baseball—not just photoshopping a picture of Phillies players doing the Abbey Road thing—the hate that festers between loved ones who have no choice but to remain on the side they were born into, lest they surrender any dignity or self-respect by claiming “it’s just a game.”

Perhaps it’s a blessing they’ve never smashed through the glass of the regular season and tumbled into the playoffs. Not only have they never played in each in the postseason—the Phillies and Mets, partially due to a divisional bottleneck, have never even both made the same postseason until 2022. But who knows! The balanced schedule and third wild card spot mean anything is possible from here on out. Soon, the Phillies and Mets may not be relegated to these annual off-site carnivals to play in a nationally televised game.

Not this year, of course. But maybe by the time our current children are grown, they will get to see the pain and joy and mostly pain of the Phillies and Mets in the postseason. May god have mercy on their souls.

Phillies vs. Mets take “endless agitation” of their rivalry to London (2024)
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