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Welcome to this special edition of "Number One Says," which celebrates 20 years of Interleague Play.
Hard to believe, but this MLB season marks the 20th season of Interleague Play. I still remember watching baseball as a little boy and asking my dad, "How come the Angels and Dodgers don't play each other?" He told me it was because they were in different leagues, and back then, that's how the schedule worked. The only time the American and National Leagues crossed paths were in preseason, the All-Star Game, and of course, the World Series.
All of that would change when MLB instilled Interleague Play in 1997. The very first regular season Interleague game took place in Arlington, TX, with the Rangers facing off against the San Francisco Giants. I remember being excited about Interleague play during the regular season, and back then, the series were only two games long; obviously because it was the first year and they were testing the proverbial waters. It wasn't until the following season that MLB decided to lengthen the Interleague series, making them the standard three games.
In the first five seasons of Interleague Play (1997-2001), the matchups were strictly regional, pitting the AL East vs the NL East, the AL Central vs the NL Central, and the AL West vs the NL West. For the most part, this format put the geographical rivalries in the spotlight, while also creating some World Series rematches. Here are a list of the Interleague rivalries, past and present:
Subway Series (Yankees/Mets)
Windy City Series (White Sox/Cubs)
Freeway Series (Angels/Dodgers)
Bay Area Series (A's/Giants)
Show Me Series (Royals/Cardinals)
Sunshine State Series (Rays/Marlins)
Lone Star State Series (Rangers/Astros)*
Canada Series (Blue Jays/Expos)**
Beltway Series (Orioles/Nationals)***
Battle of Ohio (Indians/Reds)
Battle of the North (Twins/Brewers)****
*The Rangers/Astros Interleague rivalry ended when the Astros moved to the American League in 2013 (more on that a bit later)
**The Blue Jays lost their national rival when the Expos moved to Washington D.C. in 2005
***Rivalry began in 2006, a year after the Nationals arrived in DC
****In 1997, the Twins and Brewers co-existed in the American League Central.
In 2002, MLB decided to mix up the Interleague schedule for the first time, which set up even more historic World Series rematches. The format opened the door for the Yankees and Dodgers to face each other, which has happened on a few occasions and will happen this season. In 2003, the Pirates and Red Sox faced each other for the first time since playing in the first ever World Series 100 years prior. We also got to see the Red Sox and Cubs face each other; before 2004, they were the two most cursed teams in baseball, yet they almost faced each other in the World Series in 2003.
Other than the WS rematches, one of the standout attributes in Interleague Play is the AL/NL lineups. League rules apply in these games. If the AL is at home, the DH is instilled, which would give the visiting NL team nine batters. If the NL is at home, there is no DH, meaning the starting AL pitcher has to bat. In these games, we have seen American League pitchers hit one out on a few rare occasions, most notably Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, who actually hit a Grand Slam off Johan Santana a number of years ago. A Yankees pitcher has yet to homer in the 20 years that Interleague Play has been around, but a few of our pitchers have produced. Undoubtedly the most epic moment came in 2009, when Mariano Rivera picked up his only career RBI with a bases loaded walk against the Mets. Last season, Yankees reliever Branden Pinder hit an RBI double during a shellacking of the Atlanta Braves.
For the most part, Interleague Play usually took place during parts of May, June, and July, in time for All-Star Break. The Astros' move to the American League in 2013 gave each league 15 teams, meaning that Interleague Play would be season-long, and has been since then. Interleague Play has had its detractors over the years, with some saying that it takes the mystique out of the World Series. I myself love it, and I still believe that even after 20 years, Interleague Play is as exciting as ever.
So with that, I ask this question: Do you still enjoy Interleague Play?