3 to Watch: The It's interleague time (one last time) edition

The idea at first was to make interleague play feel special. And it did.

Not everyone agreed it was a good thing, when it began back in 1997. Not everyone does now.

But it did feel special, on that June weekend when it began.

The Red Sox were back at Shea Stadium, where they lost the 1986 World Series. The Blue Jays were in Philadelphia, where they played in the 1993 World Series.

Later that year, the Braves were in Boston, the city they once called home. There was a Subway Series that counted, a Freeway Series, too.

There were National League umpires in National League parks, and American League umpires in American League parks. There were the Dodgers, with a designated hitter, and the Yankees, with their pitchers hitting.

It made sense then that interleague play all happened at the same time.

It made sense then that interleague play didn't pollute the rest of the schedule, the "true" schedule.

It doesn't feel that way anymore, does it?

Interleague play begins this weekend, the last time we'll be able to say that. With realignment coming next year and 15 teams in each league, there will be interleague play every day of the season.

It won't be anything special -- if it even is now.

Sometimes, it still feels that way. The other day in the Reds clubhouse, players were asking what the new Yankee Stadium is like, because they'd never been there. The Reds have spent all this week in New York -- two games at Citi Field with the Mets, three in the Bronx with the Yankees, the first team to ever do that -- and they were curious.

"It's very weird," Brandon Phillips said. "But to tell you the truth, I'm glad it's New York. It's one of my favorite cities, and I'm looking forward to Yankee Stadium."

Phillips played in the old stadium, with the Indians in 2005 and with the Reds in an interleague series in 2008. But the new stadium opened the next year, and this will be the Reds' first trip there.

But it feels more like an oddity than an endorsement for interleague play as something special, or as something that gains from the idea of every team beginning it at the same time.

When someone asked Reds manager Dusty Baker about his week in New York, he thought not of the ballparks but of his wallet.

"I'll let you know on Saturday, when I've got to cash another check," Baker said.

Back in 1997, we scoured that interleague schedule, looking for cool matchups.

This weekend, it looks like just another slate of games.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. The Red Sox and Phillies are meeting for their 11th series in the last 10 years. Seven of the previous 10 series began with one team or the other in first place (including two that began with both in first place). Now they're both in last place, for Red Sox at Phillies, Friday night (7:05 ET) at Citizens Bank Park. Cole Hamels starts for the Phillies, but this isn't his most interesting start on the homestand. That would be next Wednesday, when he'll face Bryce Harper and the Nationals. It should be an interesting weekend for Jonathan Papelbon, although this would be much more fun if they were meeting at Fenway Park. Then again, this week Papelbon told Rob Bradford of weei.com: "It won't be weird. It might be a little weird for Pap, but it won't be weird for [alter-ego] Cinco. Cinco is like a Great White, when he smells blood he attacks."

2. With five games in New York, the Reds got to show off their entire rotation. And with Johnny Cueto going in Reds at Yankees, Sunday afternoon (1:05 ET) at Yankee Stadium, they appear to have saved the best for last. Cueto was good last year, but the Reds believe he has matured this year. It shows, with a 4-1 record and 1.89 ERA through his first eight starts. He faces the Yankees' best, CC Sabathia.

3. The Nationals and Orioles have never met when either team was in first place. In fact, their last 10 series began with one team or the other (usually both) in last place, which is probably why there's not a real rivalry between two teams that (sort of) share the same market. If it's going to happen, it should start now, with both teams on the rise. Rivalry or not, the Wei-Yin Chen vs. Stephen Strasburg matchup in Orioles at Nationals, Sunday afternoon (1:35 ET) at Nationals Park ought to be a good one.

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