Jim Salisbury | Hey, feud! These two teams finally have a reason to fight.

OK, so it's not Yankees-Red Sox, Cubs-Cardinals or Carolina-Duke.

It's not Pat's-Geno's, The Donald-Rosie, Harry Potter-Draco Malfoy or Billy Wagner-Pat Burrell, either.

But there's no disputing that, finally, after all these years, an honest-to-goodness rivalry has sprouted between the Phillies and the Mets.

You could feel it yesterday at Citizens Bank Park, where the two teams, one-two in the National League East race entering the day, renewed acquaintances in a day-night doubleheader. More than 35,000 showed up for the opener. Most, but not all, booed Wagner. There were a lot of Mets fans in the house, and they left happy because their team pulled off a sweep, knocking the Phils to third place.

The Mets took the opener, 6-5, with an angry Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez giving them a quality start and the hated Wagner finishing it off. John Maine delivered eight strong innings and got an assist from Wagner in winning the nightcap, 5-2.

Hernandez was not scheduled to pitch in the series, but he became available when the Mets and Cardinals were rained out Thursday night in New York.

The Mets weren't thrilled that they had to play a night game Thursday, not with a bus ride to Philadelphia and yesterday's doubleheader on tap. They had planned to bring up rookie Mike Pelfrey (0-5, 6.53 ERA) to start one of the games, but didn't need to after the rainout.

That rainout, by the way, raised some eyebrows in the Phillies' clubhouse. Major League Baseball confirmed that the Mets - not the umpires - made the call to postpone not long after the scheduled 7:10 p.m. start. The team chose not to wait out the rain, even though one member of the club's traveling party said it was clear by 8.

Calling the game allowed the Mets to get to Philadelphia a little earlier than planned and use Hernandez in Game 1.

Mets manager Willie Randolph was adamant that his team had not pulled any shenanigans by calling Thursday's game early.

"The schedule is messed up," he said. "You've just got to deal with it. We didn't pray for rain. The way it worked out, it might hurt us at the end of the season because we have to make up a game."

Yesterday afternoon, the rainout helped the Mets. Hernandez, a big-game pitcher, pitched six innings of two-run ball against a Phillies team that countered with four pitchers (J.D. Durbin, Brian Sanches, Clay Condrey and Mike Zagurski) who have spent significant time in the minors this season and another (Jose Mesa) who was released by a team that needs relief help.

As mentioned, El Duque pitched with a little fire in his eye. The source of his emotion was some Charlie Manuel gamesmanship. The Phillies' skipper called for an inspection of Hernandez's cap before the pitcher threw his first pitch. Hernandez had a little resin on his cap. The umpires ruled it no problem.

Manuel's request fired up Hernandez.

"Oh, yeah," catcher Ramon Castro said. "He started talking Spanglish."

Randolph had no problem with what Manuel did.

"I think he did me a favor, actually," Randolph said. "Duque loves competing in this environment. He's going to compete either way. But any time he gets his lather up, it's always good."

Manuel's ploy did not surprise Randolph, who called it "a little tit for tat." On April 17, Randolph protested Freddy Garcia's red glove and the pitcher had to change it.

This is what happens in a rivalry. Teams antagonize each other with little head games, all with the goal of trying to gain an advantage.

It didn't used to be this way with the Phillies and Mets. A rivalry works on the premise of both teams' being good at the same time. That hasn't happened over the years. In fact, in the Mets' 45 seasons, they and the Phillies have had winning records in the same season just six times: 2006, 2005, 2001, 1986, 1976 and 1975. Only twice (1986 and 2006) have they finished one-two in the NL East, and the races weren't close. The Mets won by 211/2 games in 1986 and by 12 last season.

Jimmy Rollins' bold proclamation that the Phillies were the "team to beat" in the NL East stoked the rivalry this spring, and it's only gotten better during the season. The Phils pulled off a sweep in New York earlier this month as the Mets went through a 4-14 stretch that let the Phillies and Braves back into the race. In a span of two weeks, the Phils went from 81/2 to 2 games behind the Mets. Yesterday's sweep, however, gave the Mets seven wins in their last eight games and dropped the Phillies five back with two more games to play in this important series.

"We feel we dodged a bullet," said Mets lefthander Tom Glavine, referring to the team's struggles earlier this month. "We played as badly as we could and never relinquished the lead."

The doubleheader sweep assures the Mets of leaving Philadelphia in first place when the series ends.

"We're not surprised how tight the division is," Glavine said. "We never thought we were going to run away like last year. It's going to be interesting to see how it plays out. There's a little more stress, but a race is fun."

So is a rivalry. Mets-Phillies might not be a classic, but it's getting better.


Contact staff writer Jim Salisbury at 215-854-4983 or jsalisbury@phillynews.com.